In his desire to reopen the US economy as soon as possible, President Donald Trump privately made an eyebrow-raising suggestion to his top health adviser, wondering whether the government could simply allow the novel coronavirus to “wash over the country,” according to a report.
Trump posed the bizarre question to Dr. Anthony Fauci during a White House task force meeting on the pandemic last month, leaving the top scientist and other experts present baffled, The Washington Post reported.
“Why don’t we let this wash over the country?” Trump asked Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the president’s top advisor on the coronavirus pandemic.
Two unnamed sources told the Post that Fauci was stunned by Trump’s question, but realized that the president was serious.
“Mr. President,” Fauci responded, “Many people would die.”
Trump’s public comments during that time also indicate he was weighing such a scenario in order to jumpstart the economy despite warnings from public health officials that the death toll would be enormous without mitigation.
The president repeatedly said at the time that the “cure cannot be worse than the problem itself.”
Trump spent the crucial period in February and early March downplaying the threat of the virus, fearing the impact on the US economy and his reelection.
The controversial approach would involve taking no COVID-19 countermeasures so that large numbers of people would quickly contract the virus in the hopes of creating some form of protective herd immunity, sources told the Post.
A study by the White House coronavirus task force had predicted that up to 2.2 million Americans could have eventually died if the strategy were adopted in the US.
Trump was not alone in supporting the “herd immunity” strategy at the time. He began considering the approach after hearing about the United Kingdom’s mitigation strategy and Prime Minister Boris Johnson resisting the idea of widespread lockdowns.
Johnson enacted social distancing guidelines later last month after an Imperial College study predicted a 250,000 death toll in Britain if no measures were taken.
This month, the prime minister landed in intensive care after testing positive for COVID-19.
The United States has so far recorded a total of more than 20,580 deaths from the virus, surpassing Italy’s death toll and becoming the country with the highest number of reported COVID-19 deaths worldwide.