For Trump, cameras leave no room for social distancing

Practice what I preach, not what I do.

That’s the only takeaway message one can glean from what have now become daily televised briefings by President Trump from the White House on the coronavirus crisis.

Yesterday’s briefing brought the most somber assessment yet of the toll the coronavirus will take in the US. Officials now say the best-case scenario for COVID-19 would be 100,000 to 240,000 US deaths. It came only days after Trump backed off his talk of packed church services for Easter Sunday and said stringent social distancing guidelines must be continued at least through April.

But the daily White House briefings have been anything but a model of that new form of distant interaction that the world has quickly become familiar with. The podium has been packed at times with various officials standing almost shoulder to shoulder, and at almost all of them Vice President Mike Pence is a close presence near Trump.

For his part, the president generally hovers nearby when anyone else is at the mic.

For a guy whose first introduction to many Americans was as the host of a reality television show, TV cameras and visual optics have always been a preoccupation. And he seems determined not to let a global pandemic get in the way.

Even the estimable Tony Fauci, the National Institutes of Health leader whose science-based assessments often act as an antidote to Trump’s rambling, sometimes fact-free offerings, finds himself at the lectern with the president standing much closer than guidelines would recommend.

In the span of a couple of weeks, Trump has gone from fretting about the blow the crisis is taking to his standing as the president presiding over a roaring economy and stock market to crowing about the TV ratings his briefings are garnering.

On Sunday, he tweeted:

“Because the ‘Ratings’ of my News Conferences etc. are so high, ‘Bachelor finale, Monday Night Football type numbers’ according to the @nytimes, the Lamestream Media is going CRAZY. ‘Trump is reaching too many people, we must stop him.’ said one lunatic. See you at 5:00 P.M.!”

Today’s Washington Post reports that some outlets, including the Post, the New York Times, and CNBC have stopped having reporters regularly attend the briefings because they say they often don’t generate important news and are therefore not worth subjecting reporters to the risks of being in close quarters with so many people.

“Nowadays, it seems they make little news,” Times executive editor Dean Baquet told the Post. “We, of course, reserve the right to show them live [via Web streaming] if we believe they will actually make news. But that hasn’t happened in quite some time.”

The Post story did acknowledge the irony of press outlets shunning the briefings after complaining for months about the lack of White House press conferences.

But the story, by Post media reporter Paul Farhl, went on to say, “Trump’s near-daily briefings have been widely criticized for the amount of disinformation he has provided about federal efforts to combat the coronavirus outbreak,” with critics saying “he has turned the briefings into quasi-campaign rallies in service of his reelection effort.”

It’s hardly the only way Charlie Baker stands in stark contrast to the president, but the governor’s daily State House briefings have been noteworthy for their lack of campaign-like grandstanding and for the extreme social distancing that Baker and top aides showcase.

Gov. Charlie Baker, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, left, Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders and the media practicing social distancing during a March 31 press conference providing an update on coronavirus at the State House’s Gardner Auditorium. (Pool photo by Matthew J. Lee/Boston Globe)

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito regularly stands far to Baker’s right, and Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders, who is helming his coronavirus response team, usually is far off to his left. Only Rupert Dubler, the sign language interpreter, is anywhere near Baker, and that presumably is so that he and the governor are both in the camera shot for the briefings, which the governor’s office is livestreaming.

The updates have been moved from the regular press briefing room to cavernous Gardner Auditorium, which allows the handful of reporters on hand and those joining Baker to make announcements to stay at a very far remove from each other.

At Monday’s briefing, Baker made clear just how seriously he’s taking the social distancing imperative.

“I’ve been closer to this guy than I’ve been to anybody outside my wife for the past couple of weeks,” he said, gesturing to Dubler.

MICHAEL JONAS


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BEACON HILL

Vets started dying at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home and it appears neither the head of the home nor the state secretary of veterans services notified higher-ups or raised alarms. Meanwhile, a facility that Gov. Charlie Baker described as wonderful had internal problems. (CommonWealth) Joe Battenfeld says this is now a Baker administration scandal. (Boston Herald) One employee dealing with an infected patient was disciplined for putting on protective gear. (Boston Globe) Former Holyoke Soldiers’ Home trustee Brian Corridan says Superintendent Bennett Walsh is being unfairly blamed for the COVID-19 outbreak there. (MassLive)

Baker extends the state shutdown until May 4; limits who can stay at hotels, motels, and Airbnbs; refuses to budge on recreational marijuana as a non-essential business;, and opens a field clinic in Worcester’s DCU Center. (CommonWealth)

The state hits some snags along the way as non-core workers try to work from home. (CommonWealth)

A bill is advancing in the Legislature that would temporarily protect tenants from eviction and homeowners from foreclosure during the pandemic. (State House News Service)

A bill that was introduced in the Legislature would give emergency hazard pay to first responders who are hospitalized or required to self-quarantine due to COVID-19 exposure. (Eagle-Tribune)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

First Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz tested positive for COVID-19. Now his chief of staff, Alan Wolf, has also tested positive. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

Tents are going up in Brockton to house the homeless. (The Enterprise)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

The White House Coronavirus Task Force says the best-case scenario would be 100,000 to 240,000 deaths from the virus in the US. (Washington Post) Sen. Elizabeth Warren writes a letter criticizing FEMA for outbidding states on necessary medical equipment. (MassLive)

House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal says businesses and individuals need to get their federal stimulus money soon. (MassLive)

LIVING WITH CORONAVIRUS

Crunching the numbers: Confirmed COVID-19 cases continue to grow fairly slowly, while the number of deaths jumps and two of the state’s tiniest counties emerge as hotspots. (CommonWealth) New data suggest the state’s sweeping social distancing and stay-at-home message may be slowing the increase of coronavirus cases. (Boston Globe)

Private COVID-19 testing labs are facing huge backlogs in some parts of the country, particularly California. Quest concedes it had problems there initially because of huge demand. (Quest is the leading test lab in Massachusetts.) (The Atlantic)

Poll data indicate 40 percent of Massachusetts residents are expecting financial hardships, with those on the lower rungs of the economic ladder suffering the most. (CommonWealth)

The COVID-19 outbreak and the 1918 influenza are more alike than you might think. (MassLive)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

There are growing fears that the global recession could be deep and long. (New York Times)

The latest federal relief bill contains emergency aid for the fishing industry. (Gloucester Daily Times)

Workers at GE’s aviation plant in Lynn protest, saying the company should do a better job protecting workers from COVID-19 and should shift some production to personal protection equipment. (Daily Item)

A Haverhill manufacturing plant that usually makes clothes for Brooks Brothers is now making masks for health care facilities. (Eagle-Tribune)

Gov. Charlie Baker doesn’t plan to lift restrictions classifying recreational marijuana shops as non-essential and requiring them to remain closed. (MassLive)

EDUCATION

State officials will not require districts to extend the school year into the summer, but they won’t stop individual districts from going beyond their scheduled end dates. (The Salem News)

Educators and city councilors blasted a plan announced last month that calls for some state oversight of the struggling Boston schools, but leaves the district under local control. (Boston Globe)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

The DCU Center in Worcester is being converted to a 250-bed field hospital. (Telegram & Gazette) A second nursing home in Worcester steps forward to treat elderly COVID-19 patients exclusively. (State House News)

A Cambridge biotech company has developed a coronavirus test that delivers results in 15 minutes. (Boston Globe)

Boston Medical Center is furloughing 10 percent of its workforce. (Boston Globe)

UMass Medical School holds a virtual commencement ceremony nearly two months early so the newly minted doctors can join medical practices in time to assist in the COVID-19 response. (Telegram & Gazette)

TRANSPORTATION

Travel at Boston’s Logan International Airport is down 76 percent. (WBUR)

The Worcester Regional Transit Authority will offer free rides during the pandemic. (Telegram & Gazette) The MBTA is effectively doing the same on buses with its rear-boarding policy.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

The SJC holds a four-hour hearing on whether to release large numbers of inmates from jail during the pandemic. (The Salem News) The hearing exposes divisions within law enforcement. (WBUR) Gov. Charlie Baker says it makes no sense to release prisoners into the COVID-19 pandemic unless they have a safe place to go. (CommonWealth)

ICE detainees at the Bristol County Jail go on a work strike. (WBUR)

MEDIA

VT Digger announces its first layoffs ever. (Seven Days)

CNN anchor Chris Cuomo tests positive for COVID-19. (CNN)

PASSINGS

Michael McKinnell, a Rockport architect who designed Boston City Hall, dies at 84 of COVID-19. (Gloucester Daily Times)

Theodore A. Monette, a Chicopee native and retired senior official with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, who had been living at Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, dies at 74 of COVID-19. (MassLive)