Donald Trump seems to know very little about the coronavirus

President Donald Trump has privately expressed frustration in recent days about some of the ways his administration is confronting a spreading coronavirus outbreak, according to people familiar with the conversations. Publicly, he has expressed optimism that the virus is “going to go away.”

President Donald Trump has lots and lots of thoughts about the novel coronavirus that has crippled China and has been spreading worldwide. Unfortunately, most of those thoughts are either wrong or factually questionable.

At a press conference during his visit to India on Tuesday, Trump made a number of claims about the virus, which has sickened 80,000 and killed 2,700, that were at best hugely optimistic and at worst deeply misleading.

“I think that’s a problem that’s going to go away,” Trump said of the virus, which has expanded this week in Italy, Austria, Croatia and Iran. In Iran, a day after the health minster appeared publicly to make clear that all was well, it was announced he had coronavirus.

In that news conference, the President insisted that “they have studied it. They know very much. In fact, we’re very close to a vaccine.” There’s no available evidence that a vaccine is “close,” in fact, most infectious disease experts say developing a vaccine for the virus is roughly a year away. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee), who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, told CNN’s Manu Raju Tuesday morning that “the vaccine for the coronavirus is moving more rapidly than any vaccine we have already tried to approve — but it will take a year or 18 months. The way to stop (an outbreak) is quarantine and monitoring.”

Trump also claimed in the news conference that all the US coronavirus patients “are getting better … they’re all getting better.” That followed a tweet very early Tuesday morning in India that read: “The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA. We are in contact with everyone and all relevant countries. CDC & World Health have been working hard and very smart. Stock Market starting to look very good to me!”

The latest tally shows 35 confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States as well as several other Americans with the virus in Japan. Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters on Friday that the Americans hospitalized in Japan are “seriously ill.” There have been very few updates on the condition of the other patients, although it is possible that Trump, as President, is privy to information about their conditions that the general public is not.

The series of misstatements from Trump on Tuesday about coronavirus are not new. Trump has repeatedly offered rosy predictions about the disease’s arc — most notably pushing the idea that warming temperatures (as winter turns to spring across North America) will reduce its impact much like seasonal flu.

Again, the vast majority of infectious disease experts say it is too early in the life cycle of the illness to make assumptions like that.

“It would be reckless to assume that things will quiet down in spring and summer,” Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine in Texas told CNN earlier this month. “We don’t really understand the basis of seasonality, and of course we know … absolutely nothing about this particular virus.”

Because Trump is a knows prevaricator and exaggerator, there is a tendency to view all of his mistruths through the there-he-goes-again lens. And to greet them with an eye roll. But there are mistruths and there MISTRUTHS. And when you are misleading people — whether intentionally or not — about a public health emergency, it’s very much in that latter category.

In moments like these, when uncertainty, fear and anxiety are rampant in the country and the world, we look to our leaders to provide facts. Not speculation. Not hopes. Facts.

Given that, Trump’s longtime inability to adhere to truth and provide facts untainted by his own personal biases is always damaging to the country. But never more so than in moments like these.

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