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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

Biden will reverse Trump's attempt to lift COVID-related travel restrictions

Photo: Tasos Katopodis via Getty

The incoming Biden administration will reverse President Trump's last-minute order to lift COVID-19 related travel restrictions, Jen Psaki, the incoming White House press secretary, tweeted.

Why it matters: President Trump ordered entry bans lifted for travelers from the U.K., Ireland, Brazil and much of Europe to go into effect Jan. 26, but the Biden administration will "strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19," Jen Psaki said. Biden will be inaugurated on Wednesday, Jan. 20 and Trump will no longer be president by the time the order is set to go into effect.

Dominion sends cease and desist letter to My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell

Photo: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Dominion Voting Systems on Monday sent a cease and desist letter to My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell over his spread of misinformation related to the 2020 election.

Why it matters: Trump and several of his allies have pushed false conspiracy theories about the company, leading Dominion to take legal action. It's suing pro-Trump lawyer Sidney Powell for defamation and $1.3 billion in damages, and a Dominion employee has sued Trump himself, OANN and Newsmax.

Off the Rails

Episode 5: The secret CIA plan

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer, Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Zach Gibson/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. This Axios series takes you inside the collapse of a president.

Episode 5: Trump vs. Gina — The president becomes increasingly rash and devises a plan to tamper with the nation's intelligence command.

In his final weeks in office, after losing the election to Joe Biden, President Donald Trump embarked on a vengeful exit strategy that included a hasty and ill-thought-out plan to jam up CIA Director Gina Haspel by firing her top deputy and replacing him with a protege of Republican Congressman Devin Nunes.