The United States hit an unsettling milestone on Thursday, becoming the country with the most confirmed cases of coronavirus.
According to the Johns Hopkins University dash board, more than 83,000 people in the U.S. have been infected with the deadly disease. China—where the outbreak began in late 2019—is currently at 81,782 confirmed cases, while Italy is at 80,589.
President Donald Trump was questioned about this figure during Thurday's White House press briefing. He told reporters he wasn't surprised by the figure, and used the report to brag about the country's high testing capacity.
"I think it's a tribute to our testing," he said. "No. 1, you don't know what the numbers are in China ... But you just don't know what are the numbers. But I think it's a tribute to the testing. We're testing tremendous numbers of people ... So, we'll see what happens there. But it's a tribute to the amount of testing we're doing. We're doing tremendous testing. And I'm sure you're not able to tell what China is testing and not testing. I think that's a little hard."
Trump has faced mounting criticism throughout the coronavirus pandemic, specifically for his slow and dismissive response to the crisis. Back in February, the president seemingly downplayed the severity of the disease, speculating it would "disappear" as the weather got warmer.
"It's going to disappear. One day it's like a miracle, it will disappear," he said during a Black History Month reception in the White House Cabinet Room. "And from our shores, you know, it could get worse before it gets better. Could maybe go away. We'll see what happens. Nobody really knows."
During a February interview with Eric Bolling, Trump reiterated his claim that the country was handling the outbreak sufficiently. He then insisted that his decision to implement travel bans was the reason why the U.S. had such a low number of confirmed cases, which at the time, was only 15.
"I think it’s really going well. We did something very fortunate: we closed up to certain areas of the world very, very early — far earlier than we were supposed to," he said. "I took a lot of heat for doing it. It turned out to be the right move, and we only have 15 people and they are getting better, and hopefully they’re all better. There’s one who is quite sick, but maybe he’s gonna be fine. … We’re prepared for the worst, but we think we’re going to be very fortunate."
As the number of coronavirus cases surged in the U.S., Trump made several attempts to cast the blame on China. He blasted the country's government for mishandling their response as well as suppressing vital data and information.
"If people would have known about it, it could have been stopped in place," Trump said at a press briefing earlier this month. "It could have been stopped right where it came from, China, if we would have known about it, if they would have known about it. But now the whole world, almost, is inflicted with this horrible virus."
His efforts to downplay the pandemic continued as the economic effects became more and more alarming. He even went so far as to suggest loosening life-saving restrictions so that businesses productivity would receive a boost.
"We can’t have the cure be worse than the problem," Trump told reporters Monday. "We have to open our country because that causes problems that, in my opinion, could be far bigger problems."
The president's response to the pandemic has, of course, drawn mixed reactions. But now that the U.S. is leading the world in confirmed COVID-19 cases, it's clear that criticism of Trump will only get stronger.