President Trump met Sunday with his top coronavirus medical advisers, Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx, and agreed to extend his administration's national guidelines on maintaining social distancing to April 30, not Trump's preferred date of April 12. Fauci and Birx showed Trump charts forecasting about two million Americans dying without social distancing versus 100,000 to 240,000 if the measures were kept in place. Trump announced the April 30 date that evening, and his daily briefings since have reflected these somber projections, culminating in Tuesday evening's stark, thematically consistent press conference.
"We made it very clear to him that if we pulled back on what we were doing and didn't extend them, there would be more avoidable suffering and avoidable death," Fauci told CNN on Monday. "It was a pretty clear decision on his part."
"Ultimately, Mr. Trump was convinced by the numbers and reports about refrigerator trucks being used to hold the bodies of people who have died of the virus at Elmhurst Hospital in New York City," The Wall Street Journal reports, citing Trump aides. Trump's economic advisers had also come to see a continued lockdown as doable, "and recent polling showed many Americans rejecting the idea that stay-at-home guidelines should be lifted quickly."
In fact, Trump had already made up his mind to drop the Easter date by Sunday's meeting with Fauci and Birx, Jonathan Swan reports at Axios. "Scenes out of New York, including bleak hospital images played on Fox News, struck a nerve" with Trump, and while Fauci and Birx's "stats left a dramatic impression on Trump," the "New York scenes on TV had personalized the situation" and "it was a very short meeting." Trump repeatedly pointed to the makeshift morgue trucks at Elmhurst Hospital, in his native Queens, at Tuesday's briefing.
There are risks in challenging Trump with epidemiological data, but Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984, "has forged an unusual, and at times seemingly precarious, relationship" with the president, and he "has so far retained his leverage with Mr. Trump in an administration where critics of the president rarely last long," the Journal reports. Read more about Fauci's magic formula at The Wall Street Journal.