White House predicts upward of 240,000 US coronavirus deaths as Trump warns of 'painful' weeks ahead

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White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Ambassador Deborah Birx participates in a news briefing with members of the Coronavirus Task Force at the White House on Tuesday, March 31, 2020 in Washington, D.C. - Chris Kleponis/Sipa USA/TNS

President Donald Trump warned the nation Tuesday to brace for “a hell of a bad two weeks,” as his top infectious disease experts projected that upward of 240,000 people will die from coronavirus in the U.S. even if current social distancing guidelines are precisely maintained.

Drs. Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx, two of the country’s top immunologists and senior advisers on Trump’s coronavirus task force, offered an extremely alarming estimate during a briefing at the White House.

The doctors stressed that the death toll could be lower if Americans radically change their lifestyles over the next few weeks.

However, they noted that the nation shouldn’t be surprised if between 100,000 and 240,000 lives are lost before the COVID-19 pandemic is relegated to the past.

“As sobering as that number is, we should be prepared for it,” Fauci said. “We have to prepare ourselves.”

As part of its guidelines, the administration is advising nonessential workers to stay at home and a ban on gatherings larger than 10 people, among other components. The guidelines aren’t mandatory, but many cities and states have independently implemented corresponding measures that are obligatory.

After at first saying he wanted to scrap the guidelines completely by Easter, Trump switched course Sunday and extended them until at least April 30.

At Tuesday’s briefing, Birx warned that if those guidelines aren’t now religiously followed, as many as 2.2 million people could die in the U.S.

Trump, who downplayed the severity of the virus for weeks and has made misleading statements about it, struck an unusually somber note as he took questions after Birx and Fauci laid out their projections.

“This could be a hell of a bad two weeks … or maybe even three weeks,” he said. “This is going to be three weeks like we haven’t seen before.”

“This is going to be painful — very, very painful,” he added.

More than 785 people died from coronavirus across the U.S. on Tuesday — the highest single-day death toll so far.

That put the total U.S. death toll close to 4,000 — higher than China’s count. The U.S. already has more than 180,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, more than any other country.

The Trump administration’s slow rollout of coronavirus testing has been identified as part of the reason why the virus is wreaking havoc across the country.

Still, Trump suggested Tuesday that individual states may be to blame.

“For whatever reason, New York got off to a very late start,” he said without elaborating. “You see what happens when you get off to a late start.”

Dani Lever, a spokeswoman for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, cried foul.

“This is not the time to debate, but the states were not slow to respond — the federal government was absent,” Lever said.

New York has become the epicenter of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak, with more than 75,000 confirmed cases as of Tuesday.

Trump, who grew up in the Jamaica Estates neighborhood of Queens, said he had seen television footage from Elmhurst Hospital, which is overcrowding with COVID-19 patients.

“It is a war zone in a true sense,” the president said.

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©2020 New York Daily News