"Today, I want to provide an update on our response to the China virus, and what my administration is doing to get the outbreak in the Sunbelt under control. Seems largely in Sunbelt but could be spreading," Trump said to open the briefing amid polls showing Americans sharply disapproving of how he's handled the crisis.
Comparing the U.S. to the rest of the world, he downplayed the impact of the pandemic on Americans by emphasizing it's a global problem, but he also made a rare acknowledgment of bad news ahead.
"It will probably unfortunately get worse before it gets better. Something I don't like saying about things but that's the way it is. It's the way -- it's what we have. You look over the world. It's all over the world. And it tends to do that," he said.
"If you watch American television, you'd think that the United States was the only country involved with and suffering from the China virus. Well, the world is suffering very badly. But the fact is that many countries are suffering very, very, very badly, and they've been suffering from this virus for a long time. We've done much better than most and with the fatality rate at a lower rate than most," Trump continued.
In fact, the U.S. is in the top ten of countries with the highest mortality rates.
Though Trump took a less defensive and sometimes more realistic tone than he has in the past, he repeated that the virus will eventually "disappear" and continued to try to minimize any criticism of his response, touting his handling of the pandemic as a success story.
"My administration will stop at nothing to save lives and shield the vulnerable, which is so important. We have learned so much about this disease, and we know who the vulnerable are, and we are going to indeed shield them," he continued.
In somewhat of a reversal, Trump also sent a clearer message on masks, one day after tweeting a photo of himself donning one for the first time, calling it "patriotic."
"We're asking everybody that when you are not able to socially distance, wear a mask. Get a mask. Whether you like the mask or not, they have an impact. They'll have an effect, and we need everything we can get," Trump said, following months of resistance.
Asked why he doesn't wear a mask more frequently, Trump said he does when he needs it, despite only being photographed once wearing one at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
"I have the mask right here. I carry it, and I will use it gladly. No problem with it, and I've said that and I say: if you can, use the mask," Trump said, showing the mask in his hand but not putting it on. " I have no problem with the masks. I view it this way. Anything that potentially can help -- and that certainly can potentially help -- is a good thing."
He went on to justify not wearing one in the briefing room, for instance, by saying he and everyone in the room had been tested.
"Oftentimes, I'll be with people that are fully tested. I've been tested. In theory, you don't need the mask. I'm getting used to the mask and the reason is, think about patriotism maybe it is, it helps. It helps," he added.
In another change in his messaging to "Open Up America Again," Trump said his administration is now "imploring young Americans to avoid packed bars and other crowded, indoor gatherings."
"Be safe and be smart," he added.
Questioned by ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl about whether the U.S. has a problem with testing, the president defended the state of testing, saying, saying “We’ve done more testing by far than anybody" but also conceded it would be a "good thing" to reduce wait times for results.
“We’ll be able to get those numbers down. Those numbers are similar in other places. They’re also doing massive numbers, numbers like nobody thought possible, but those numbers will be coming down. I agree, I think it's a good thing if we could do that,” Trump said, seemingly referring to wait times as he referred to “numbers."
Even as his administration has sought to zero out any additional funding for testing in the next round of relief funding, the president told Karl he’d be okay with more if the experts feel it’s needed.
“Well they're going to make a presentation to me tonight and tomorrow on that,” Trump said, when asked if he supports more funding for testing. “I think that we are doing a tremendous amount of testing but if the doctors and the professional feel that even though we’re at a level that nobody ever dreamt possible that they would like to more, I'm okay with it.”
Karl also asked Trump about a claim White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany made earlier in the day, that sometimes the president gets tested "multiple times a day," Trump couldn't recall a time that has happened.
"Well, I didn't know about more than one. I do take probably on average a test every two days, three days, and I don't know of any time I've taken two tests in one day. But I could see that happening," he said.
Questioned why his doctors and experts weren’t with him for the briefing, the president replied that “Dr. Birx is just outside,” referring to coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx, but he made no mention of his other experts such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, who earlier said he wasn't asked to be there.
Trump took a few questions at what the White House had called a "news conference." It lasted roughly 26 minutes compared to earlier briefings that would last well over an hour.
The president had stopped participating in the once near-daily task force briefings at the end of April, not long after suggesting injecting disinfectants to treat COVID-19.
Aides urged him then to end his appearances at the briefings, citing sinking poll numbers, but with poll numbers falling farther and coronavirus cases surging, the president returned to the podium.