U.S. Vice President Mike Pence speaks during a news conference, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Washington D.C., U.S., March 22, 2020. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Vice President Mike Pence said Wednesday that Italy is the “most comparable area to the United States” at this point in terms of the number of coronavirus cases and deaths, a grim statement reflecting the nation’s dire situation, since Italy currently leads the world in COVID-19 deaths. On Monday, the White House said Americans should be prepared for at least 100,000 deaths across the country, even with strict mitigation measures. 

“We think Italy may be the most comparable area to the United States, at this point, for a variety of reasons, and so we built that modeling,” Pence said Tuesday on CNN, as he explained how the White House arrived at its mortality projection. 

By noon Eastern, Italy reported 12,428 deaths, compared with 4,102 in the U.S., according to Johns Hopkins data. Italy has many fewer confirmed cases — 105.792, compared to the United States’ 190,089. Deaths lag the number of cases, and Italy has reported the highest number of deaths in the world from COVID-19.

On Tuesday, the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force gave a lengthy, somber briefing that ran 2 hours and 11 minutes. President Trump told reporters at the briefing that the U.S. needs to be prepared for a “hell of a bad two weeks,” as the number of cases and deaths increase. The president, who has been eager to return Americans to work, sounded a different tone Tuesday, as his team painted the grim reality of coming deaths. 

But Mr. Trump, who Tuesday night, insisted COVID-19 is nothing like the flu, hasn’t always seen the comparison this way.

“This is like a flu,” Mr. Trump said in late February. He has also compared the number of coronavirus deaths to deaths caused by the seasonal flu. 

In his CNN interview, Pence insisted the president’s tone has been consistent. 

“I don’t believe the president has ever belittled the threat of the coronavirus,” Pence claimed. 

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