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Nearly a quarter million people in the United States could die as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, Trump administration officials said Tuesday.

That grim forecast is based on statistical models that have guided the administration’s response, and which were displayed at Tuesday’s White House press briefing of the coronavirus task force. In what was presented as a best case scenario in which millions of citizens across the country adhered to intensive social distancing guidelines promoted by the Trump administration, between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans are still expected to be killed by COVID-19.

But if the strict public health measures are ignored, the toll could be much higher, the officials said.

“We’re going to do everything we can to get [the U.S. death toll] significantly below that,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, whose forthright manner has made him a star of the coronavirus briefings.

Tuesday’s briefing was the second in a row in which officials openly discussed the possibility that more than 100,000 U.S. residents could lose their life thanks to COVID-19. The somber tone from those who spoke from the briefing room podium was a bracing departure from the days when President Trump was describing the disease as a “very little problem” that would go away on its own. It is also, however, much lower than the 2.2 million Americans that a study by the Imperial College London projected would be killed as the coronavirus spread.

Trump took credit Tuesday for taking measures that he said had prevented the deaths of millions, noting that some confidants had told him to not to “do anything, just ride it out and think of it as the flu.” This was a seeming reference to conservative media personalities including Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh, who devoted airtime during a critical period in February and early March — when the nation could have been preparing for the epidemic — to convincing their audiences and Trump that the coronavirus was no more harmful than the common flu. Read more

Read also: Trump sees ‘hard days’ ahead in coronavirus fight, with as many as 240,000 Americans dead