Trump Confronts a New Reality Before an Expected Wave of Disease and Death

Whatever the eventual number will be, the pandemic of 2020 seems likely to rank with the deadliest of the past century. The worst came in 1918-20 and killed about 675,000 Americans, accounting for many of the deaths attributed to World War I. Another pandemic in 1957-58 killed about 116,000 in the United States, and one in 1968 killed about 100,000. The H1N1 virus in 2009, for which Mr. Trump has assailed Mr. Obama for his response, killed only 12,000.

Mr. Trump and his administration have stepped up efforts in recent weeks, expanding testing and seeking to work with governors to address shortages of ventilators, masks and other medical equipment. The president has dispatched medical ships and Army engineers to help, and after flirting with an early reopening, extended social distancing guidelines until the end of April.

For much of Tuesday’s marathon two-hour and 11-minute briefing, the longest single public appearance of his presidency, according to, which monitors his activities, Mr. Trump took on a more somber manner as the scale of the fatalities seemed to sink in.

He jousted to some degree with Mr. Acosta and Yamiche Alcindor of “PBS NewsHour,” two of his favorite foils, but he was more restrained with them than usual and avoided some of the more incendiary language he often uses.

Yet he could not resist for long. By the time the briefing ended, he had lapsed back into complaints about the impeachment “hoax” and renewed attacks on critics like James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, and Mr. Comey’s onetime deputy, Andrew G. McCabe. “Did it divert my attention?” the president asked of the impeachment. “I think I’m getting A-pluses for the way I handled myself during a phony impeachment.”

Still, Mr. Trump, rarely a reflective person in public, mused about the human toll of the pandemic more than he had in the early weeks of the crisis because apparently it has hit his own circle. As he has in the past couple of days, he referred to an overwhelmed hospital in his childhood home of Queens and an unidentified friend he said had been hospitalized with the virus.

“When you send a friend to the hospital and you call up to find out how is he doing,” Mr. Trump said, “it happened to me where goes to the hospital, he says goodbye, sort of a tough guy, a little older, a little heavier than he’d like to be frankly and you call up the next day, how is he doing? And he’s in a coma. This is not the flu.”

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