President Donald Trump seemed on Tuesday to grasp the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic during his first coronavirus task force press briefing since April.
But while news outlets and pundits praised the president for his "somber tone," the switch from heavily focusing on reopening (despite the warning of public health experts) to a sudden urging of the public to don masks and avoid bars, Trump's change of tone appears to not be a reversal on his denial of the threat of the pandemic, but rather a realization that the denial could cause him to lose the upcoming presidential elections.
According to CNN, Trump and his team had discussed election polls that showed him trailing former Vice President Joe Biden prior to his briefing on Tuesday. People familiar with the conversation told CNN that some aides brought up the fact that taking a serious tone on the coronavirus has in the past been successful for Trump.
"This is a case when you line it all up, it's the last season of 'The Apprentice,' we've got 100 days left and the reality TV star just got mugged by reality," Rahm Emanuel, who served in Congress and as White House chief of staff to President Barack Obama told The New York Times.
"I think he is finally starting to get it," one Trump adviser told CNN about the president's understanding of his reelection and the pandemic, "But can he do this for the next 100 days? I think if he does, he wins."
CNN reported that in an average of recent national polls, Biden is leading by an average of 12 percentage points. Biden is also leading in several key states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Minnesota, a series of Fox News polls from this week showed.
Aides also showed Trump a series of polls that showed that more and more citizens are disapproving of his handling of the pandemic, CNN reported.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 60% of the 1,006 respondents disapproved of Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
However, as Business Insider's Sonam Sheth and John Haltiwanger pointed out, while Trump may have finally acknowledged that the coronavirus is a real threat, he hasn't taken any responsibility for how his policies and actions as president have impacted the course of the pandemic in the US, and he is also very likely to change his tune on the topic very quickly.
As of Friday, the US had over four million coronavirus cases with more than 145,000 deaths. The World Health Organization reported the largest single-day increase for cases worldwide with 284,196 cases, of which almost 70,000 came from the US alone.
While Trump may have canceled the Republican National Convention in Florida, he did so because aides told him the move would show leadership, CNN said, quoting two sources familiar with the matter. The New York Times later reported that the move may have been also motivated by finances.
"I thought I had an obligation not to have large numbers, massive numbers of people crowded into a room," Trump said during an interview on Fox News.
Just last month, despite public health recommendation, Trump held a rally in Tulsa, and several members of his security detail were asked to quarantine after two Secret Service agents tested positive for the virus. Health experts have said the rally most likely contributed to surging cases in the country.
While largely sticking to a script during his coronavirus briefings this week (except when he wished Jeffrey Epstein associate Ghislaine Maxwell "well"), it's hard to tell how long it will last or if it could erase the past six months of largely denying the threat of the pandemic.
Trump has previously suggested people inject disinfectant, undermined medical experts on his own coronavirus task force, claimed the pandemic was a hoax perpetrated by the fake-news media, and touted unproven medical cures such as hydroxychloroquine.
The president up until this week had pushed for an economic reopening despite the risk it posed to the public. Last month, he told The Wall Street Journal that those wear masks do so as a political statement against him, before suddenly encouraging mask-wearing this week. And while experts have said it's probably not safe to reopen schools, Trump has continued to push for schools to reopen and previously threatened to withhold federal funding from schools that don't reopen in the fall.
And while Trump has encouraged public-health-expert-backed mitigation strategies like masks, and not going to bars, the administration still lacks a comprehensive national testing strategy and has largely abdicated federal responsibility beyond CDC guidelines, which has led to an uneven response by individual states.
Meanwhile, states across the country, especially in the South and the West, are struggling to get cases under control and some areas are facing shortages of hospital beds to treat severe cases.
The main model used to estimate the impact of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States now predicts close to 220,000 deaths by November 1. Experts have consistently said that proper protocols taken early on could have prevented hospital systems from being overburdened, which would have led to fewer deaths.
It's not clear how long Trump can keep this tune, or if it will help his re-election campaign, but the pandemic in the US isn't slowing down, and experts are still worried what that means when a likely second wave hits in the fall.
So often people are working hard at the wrong thing. Working on the right thing is probably more important than working hard.