Trump’s Coronavirus Strategy: ‘Stay Clean,’ Wash Hands and Avoid Friends

WASHINGTON — President Trump, whose government is leading an effort to combat the spread of the coronavirus in the United States, offered some tips on Wednesday to avoid getting sick, and as he did so, he revealed a little more about his lifelong aversion to germs.

“I do it a lot, anyway, as you’ve probably heard: Wash your hands,” he told reporters gathered at the White House for a news conference on the global epidemic. “Stay clean. You don’t have to necessarily grab every handrail unless you have to. You know, you do certain things.”

Mr. Trump’s self-declared germophobia is well documented. In his 2004 book, “How to Get Rich,” he detailed what he called a “personal crusade to replace the mandatory and unsanitary handshake with the Japanese custom of bowing.”

His stance on combating illness as president has in some ways matched how he behaved as a private citizen — “KEEP THEM OUT OF HERE!” he wrote on Twitter in 2014 days before an American aid worker infected with the Ebola virus in West Africa during a severe outbreak there returned to the United States. That has alarmed experts who have said he is not the right person to be leading the charge.

But with tales of his own ways of warding off germs, the president spent nearly an hour on Wednesday trying to assure the public that he was.

  • Updated Feb. 26, 2020

    • What is a Coronavirus?
      It is a novel virus named for the crown-like spikes that protrude from its surface. The coronavirus can infect both animals and people, and can cause a range of respiratory illnesses from the common cold to more dangerous conditions like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS.
    • How do I keep myself and others safe?
      Washing your hands frequently is the most important thing you can do, along with staying at home when you’re sick.
    • What if I’m traveling?
      The C.D.C. has warned older and at-risk travelers to avoid Japan, Italy and Iran. The agency also has advised against all non-essential travel to South Korea and China.
    • Where has the virus spread?
      The virus, which originated in Wuhan, China, has sickened more than 80,000 people in at least 33 countries, including Italy, Iran and South Korea.
    • How contagious is the virus?
      According to preliminary research, it seems moderately infectious, similar to SARS, and is probably transmitted through sneezes, coughs and contaminated surfaces. Scientists have estimated that each infected person could spread it to somewhere between 1.5 and 3.5 people without effective containment measures.
    • Who is working to contain the virus?
      The World Health Organization officials have been working with officials in China, where growth has slowed. But this week, as confirmed cases spiked on two continents, experts warned that the world is not ready for a major outbreak.

“When somebody sneezes,” Mr. Trump said, “I try to bail out as much as possible when they’re sneezing.”

Last year, the president scolded his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, for coughing during an interview Mr. Trump had with ABC, and he asked Mr. Mulvaney to leave the room. Aides at the time said the president had been more revolted by the sight of someone coughing than he was annoyed at someone interfering with his camera shot.

On Wednesday, Mr. Trump also shared a recent story about precautions he had taken to avoid contracting an illness from an unnamed friend. (On the campaign trail, he frequently invokes stories about unnamed friends and associates to underscore a story, a habit that has caught the eye of fact checkers.)

“I had a man come up to me a week ago,” said Mr. Trump, who was touring the West Coast on a campaign trip. “Hadn’t seen him in a long time. I said, ‘How are you doing?’ He said, ‘Fine, fine.’ He hugs me. I said, ‘Are you well?’ He says, ‘No.’ He said, ‘I have the worst fever and the worst flu.’ He’s hugging and kissing me.”

“I said, ‘Excuse me,’ and started washing my hands,” Mr. Trump added. “You have to do this.”

The president said to view the coronavirus “the same as the flu,” even though much is unknown about how it develops or spreads. Mr. Trump, who appointed Vice President Mike Pence to oversee the government’s response to the outbreak, also waved away concerns by officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who said the spread of the virus was inevitable.

“I don’t think it’s inevitable,” the president said, before adding, “There’s a chance that it could get worse.”

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