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Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

It took a stock market crash — and a Fox News star's intervention — to finally snap President Trump's delusional and possibly disastrous fixation with treating the coronavirus like just another winter flu.

Why it matters: Because the government was so slow to distribute tests, Trump officials don't know how far the virus has spread in the U.S. 

Behind the scenes: The president and some of his team were in denial about the virus for weeks, portraying it as just an overhyped winter flu. Over the past week, per half a dozen Trump advisers, a series of alarm bells snapped them out of their complacency.

  • Trump has always treated the stock market as his personal ticker on his performance. On Thursday, the stock market had its biggest one-day fall since 1987's Black Monday crash.
  • On Friday, the White House Council of Economic Advisers sent a memo to administration officials surveying outside economic forecasts. Its finding, per a source with knowledge of the memo: The likelihood of a recession in the next 12 months had risen from a 29% to 37% chance. A second source confirmed the memo's broad outlines.
  • And a number of informal Trump advisers — including Fox News host Tucker Carlson — emphasized to the president that this was not the flu and urged him to act fast.

Trump's error-riddled Wednesday night address — which sent the markets spiraling — was the low point of a disastrous month for the administration. One senior White House official described it as "just awful."

  • The short, 10-minute scripted speech contained three policy statements that needed clarifying or correcting (including the president's erroneous claim that he would ban trade between the U.S. and Europe). 

The big picture: The calamitous speech obscured signs that the administration is hustling to get its act together.

  • The administration is finally clearing out the regulatory hurdles to testing.
  • Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin cut a deal with Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to provide the first wave of support for people affected by the coronavirus.
  • All of Trump's top public health advisers supported the European travel restrictions, according to a senior administration official who was in the room for the conversations. They will extend the travel ban to the U.K. and Ireland on Monday.
  • Top administration officials are finally following the CDC's guidance on limiting the virus' spread. Though Trump himself shook hands in public as recently as Friday, Vice President Pence told White House staff on Saturday afternoon to avoid physical contact with others.
  • Pence is holding daily press briefings. Two sources with direct knowledge said they will continue next week.
  • And the administration is working closely with the private sector and the states. Senior administration officials said governors and more industry leaders will visit the White House this week.

Between the lines: Trump laid a trap for himself by falsely claiming the U.S. footprint of the virus was small and shrinking.

  • So what happens, one adviser mused, if these numbers skyrocket simply because the administration finally gets its act together on testing?
  • The data will stand in jarring contrast to the president's outlandish claims.

The bottom line: The president initially set impossible expectations. When the numbers come in, he'll have to face reality.

Go deeper

Updated 8 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies — Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker

Arizona governor sues Biden administration over COVID funds tied to mandates

A teacher prepares a hallway barrier to help students maintain social distancing at John B. Wright Elementary School in Tucson, Arizona, on Aug. 14, 2020. Photo: Cheney Orr/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) filed a lawsuit Friday against the Biden administration for ordering the state to stop allocating federal COVID relief funds to schools that don't comply with public health recommendations such as masking, the Arizona Republic reports.

Why it matters: The Treasury Department said last week that the state would have to pay back the money if Ducey does not redesignate the $173 million programs to ensure they don't "undermine efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19."

Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers

President Biden speaking from Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Jan. 21. Photo: Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A federal judge in Texas blocked the Biden administration from enforcing its coronavirus vaccine mandate for federal workers on Friday, citing the outcome of last week's Supreme Court ruling that nullified the administration's vaccine-or-test requirement for large employers.

Why it matters: It's a blow to President Biden's efforts to increase the U.S.' vaccination rates, though much of the federal workforce has already been vaccinated against the virus.