During a town hall event on ABC on Tuesday night, President Donald Trump defended his administration's response to the COVID-19 pandemic and attempted to distance himself from his leaked admission that he "downplayed" the pandemic.
During the event, hosted by George Stephanopoulos, Trump was repeatedly asked about the comments he made to journalist Bob Woodward in March that leaked earlier this month in which he said he wanted to "downplay" the pandemics so as "not to cause a panic."
When Stephanopolous brought up the comments, Trump explained that he was simply saying he didn't "want to drive the nation into a panic."
"I'm a cheerleader for this nation. I'm the one who closed up our country. I closed up the country long before any of the experts thought I should," Trump said.
One study by Columbia University estimates that 36,000 lives could have been saved if the U.S. had locked down and adopted social distancing measures just one week sooner.
When asked directly by an audience member about his comments to Woodward, Trump claimed his actions proved he "up-played" the pandemic.
"Well, I didn't downplay it. In many ways, I actually up-played it in terms of action. My action was very strong," Trump said.
Trump pointed to travel restrictions he imposed to China on Feb. 2 and on Europe on March 13 as evidence that he "up-played" his response to the virus. Both restrictions still allowed some travel from the regions to enter the U.S.
The President also questioned the effectiveness of masks during the event. While Trump said that he wears masks "in hospitals" and in other situations, he added that "a lot of people think the masks are not good."
When asked to clarify, Trump identified "waiters" and restaurant servers in particular, adding that a server "the other day" had been fidgeting with a mask while touching his plate.
"That can't be good," Trump said.
In a press briefing on Wednesday, Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said that Trump "agreed with Dr. Fauci" and was pointing out the "unintended consequences" of wearing masks and highlighting proper mask-wearing techniques.
The President also explained his skepticism by citing recommendations from the CDC and Dr. Anthony Fauci from March against wearing masks. At the time, health officials did not recommend the use of masks over a fear of nationwide shortage. Since April, the CDC has recommended that all Americans wear masks when in situations where social distancing is difficult, and Fauci has admitted that "mixed messaging" on mask use by the government put the U.S. behind in its response to the virus.
Trump also criticized Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden for not instituting a nationwide mask mandate, despite the fact that Biden does not currently hold public office.
"Like Joe Biden, they said they were going to do a national mandate on masks...he didn't do it. He never did it," Trump said.
Trump closed the segment on COVID-19 by claiming without evidence that the virus would "go away without a vaccine." Trump said that the U.S. "over a period of time" would develop a cure that would be "herd developed," even without a vaccine.
Health officials say that the U.S. will develop "herd immunity" when 70% of the country develops COVID-19 antibodies, whether through contraction or vaccination. Because the virus is so novel, it's unclear how long immunity will last or if the immunity or if COVID-19 mutations will limit immunity.
During Wednesday's briefing, McEnany clarified that "herd immunity" was not a COVID-19 containment strategy considered by the White House.