President Donald Trump was hit with a series of questions about his handling of the COVID-19 crisis on national television on Tuesday evening, at one point repeating his controversial claim that the virus will "disappear," this time saying it would because of "herd mentality."
Trump was referring to herd immunity, where so many people get a disease and become immune to it that the spread is severely restricted or stopped. Some experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci of the White House coronavirus task force, have said that for this to happen with COVID-19, many people would have to die. Some scientists are more hopeful about the timing of herd immunity.
"It would go away without the vaccine?" asked ABC News' George Stephanopoulos, the moderator of the town hall–style program.
"Sure, with time," Trump answered.
"And many deaths," Stephanopoulos said.
"And you'll develop a herd mentality. It's going to be herd development and that's going to happen. That will all happen. But with a vaccine, I think it will go away very quickly," Trump said.
Trump’s remark that the coronavirus will “disappear” on Tuesday evening echoed comments he made in February, when he said, "It's going to disappear. One day, it's like a miracle, it will disappear."
About 195,000 people in the US have died of COVID-19 in the nearly seven months that separate those comments.
The question from the audience that led to Trump’s remarks was from Ajani Powell, a student. “My question is, if you believe it's the president's responsibility to protect America, why would you downplay a pandemic that is known to disproportionately harm low-income families and minority communities?” she asked.
Trump defended his early record on the virus, which led to a back and forth between him and Stephanopoulos.
“You were saying it's going to disappear,” Stephanopoulos said.
“It is going to disappear. It's going to disappear,” Trump said.
“Not if we don't take action, correct?” the moderator asked.
“No, I still say it,” Trump said. “It's going to disappear, George.”
Trump’s messaging on the coronavirus has been inconsistent — especially his stance on mask-wearing — and that continued on Tuesday evening.
Well after medical experts and the CDC suggested people should wear a mask outside of their homes, the president slow-walked promoting the idea of face coverings, including not selling them on his campaign website.
He wore a mask for the first time publicly during a visit to Walter Reed Hospital in July, even as the CDC has begun recommending them in April. At a rally in Pennsylvania this month, the president mocked Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and Republican Sen. Mitt Romney for wearing masks.
When Julie Bart, a retired chemical engineer from Gibsonia, Pennsylvania, asked the president during the town hall why he doesn’t wear a mask or support a national mandate on mask-wearing, Trump — whose administration runs world-leading health agencies such as the CDC — suggested it was the Democrats’ fault.
“Well, I do wear them when I have to and when I'm in hospitals and other locations,” he said. “But I will say this, they said at the Democrat convention they're going to do a national mandate, they never did it, because they've checked out and they didn't do it. And a good question is, you ask, like Joe Biden, they said, we're going to do a national mandate on masks.”
Later in the broadcast, Trump admitted the coronavirus was the most challenging part of his presidency, calling it a “sad situation.”
“I learned that life is very fragile,” he said. “I knew people that were powerful people, strong people, good people, and they got knocked out by this and died.”