Trump to ABC's David Muir: 'Possible there will be some' COVID-19 deaths as country reopens

"World News Tonight" Anchor David Muir interviewed President Trump in Arizona.

May 5, 2020, 5:11 PM

President Donald Trump said in an exclusive interview with ABC "World News Tonight" Anchor and Managing Editor David Muir on Tuesday that "it's possible there will be some" deaths as states roll back restrictions aimed at stopping the spread of the novel coronavirus, acknowledging that it was the choice the country faces to reopen and jumpstart the economy.

"Do you believe that's the reality we're facing that -- that lives will be lost to reopen the country?” Muir asked Trump during an interview in Phoenix, Arizona, on the president's first major trip in months since the virus outbreak worsened.

"It's possible there will be some because you won't be locked into an apartment or a house or whatever it is," Trump said. "But at the same time, we're going to practice social distancing, we're going to be washing hands, we're going to be doing a lot of the things that we've learned to do over the last period of time."

In addition to the president's acknowledgement directly to Muir that it's "possible there will be some" deaths as a cost of reopening the country, the president also acknowledged during his visit to Arizona that there will be some who are "affected badly" by the decision.

“Will some people be affected? Yes. Will some people be affected badly? Yes. But we have to get our country open and we have to get it open soon,” Trump said, directly acknowledging there will be a real, negative human cost in prioritizing an economic revival over a more cautious approach in favor of public health. But even as the president advocates for a return to normal economic business, the nation's governors remain in control of decision-making for their respective states.

The president's cost-benefit analysis is exemplified in his decision to move forward with disbanding the task force of medical experts in the weeks ahead, as he declares that "our country is now in the next stage of the battle."

The nation's foremost infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said in an interview with CNN on Monday that the decision to reopen states across the country amounted to balancing “how many deaths and how much suffering are you willing to accept to get back to what you want to be, some form of normality, sooner rather than later."'

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In arguing for the need to push states to reopen, Trump said social distancing restrictions had led to drug overdoses and suicides. "Take a look at what's going on," he said. "People are losing their jobs. We have to bring it back, and that's what we're doing."

He encouraged the American people to view themselves as “warriors” as he urges the country to press forward toward an economic reopening, saying it’s not realistic to keep up strict social distancing guidelines in the long term.

“We can’t sit in the house for the next three years,” the president said.

Even as the president sought to prepare Americans that “more death” is ahead, he expressed optimism that the virus will go away, regardless of whether a vaccine is achieved.

“There'll be more death, that the virus will pass, with or without a vaccine. And I think we're doing very well on the vaccines but, with or without a vaccine, it's going to pass, and we're going to be back to normal. But it's been a rough process. There is no question about it,” Trump said.

The president’s optimistic outlook stands in contrast to the consensus of opinion among public health experts in warning that the virus will continue to pose a major risk until the time that there is effective treatment and vaccination.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump talks to the media before boarding Air Force One for a trip to Phoenix to visit a Honeywell plant that manufactures protective equipment, May 5, 2020, in Andrews Air Force Base, Md.
President Donald Trump talks to the media before boarding Air Force One for a trip to Phoenix to visit a Honeywell plant that manufactures protective equipment, May 5, 2020, in Andrews Air Force Base, Md.
Evan Vucci/AP

His continued insistence that Americans are having no issues getting tested if needed also contrasts with complaints from governors and public health officials around the country that they sometimes lack the supplies needed to conduct the tests.

Asked by Muir if "right now," any American worker nervous about returning to work who wants to get tested could get access to an antibody test, Trump said yes.

"They should have no problem," Trump said.

The president was dismissive of two new analyses that offered cautionary tales against a premature reopening, one from Johns Hopkins University that warned the daily death rate could nearly double by June and a model from the University of Washington model that warned the U.S. death toll could increase to nearly 135,000 by Aug. 4.

“These models have been so wrong from day one. Both on the low side and the upside. They've been so wrong, they've been so out of whack. And they keep making new models, new models and they’re wrong,” the president said.

“Those models that you're mentioning are talking about without mitigation,” Trump continued. “Well we're mitigating and we've learned to mitigate, but we can be in place, work in place and also mitigate.”

But the University of Washington model did account for continued mitigation, and Johns Hopkins said the information in its analysis model included “some scenarios” like premature relaxation of social distancing.

This report was featured in the Wednesday, May 6, 2020, episode of “Start Here,” ABC News’ daily news podcast.

"Start Here" offers a straightforward look at the day's top stories in 20 minutes. Listen for free every weekday on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, the ABC News app or wherever you get your podcasts.

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