BY: BEN GITTLESON, JORDYN PHELPS, and LIBBY CATHEY

(WASHINGTON) — President Donald Trump held his first press briefing focused on the coronavirus crisis in nearly three months on Tuesday — but without any experts from the White House task force.

“Today, I want to provide an update on our response to the China Virus, and what my administration is doing to get the outbreak in the Sunbelt under control. Seems largely in Sunbelt but could be spreading,” Trump said to open the briefing.

Trump appeared to continue to try to minimize any criticism of his response to the pandemic, touting his handling of it as a success story.

“My administration will stop at nothing to save lives and shield the vulnerable, which is so important. We have learned so much about this disease, and we know who the vulnerable are, and we are going to indeed shield them,” he continued.

But in a reversal, Trump also provided a more clear message on masks, one day after tweeting a photo of himself donning one for the first time.

“We’re asking everybody that when you are not able to socially distance, wear a mask. Get a mask. Whether you like the mask or not, they have an impact. They’ll have an effective, and we need everything we can get,” Trump said, following months of resistance.

Comparing the U.S. to the rest of the world, Trump downplayed the impact of the virus in the U.S. by emphasizing it’s a global issue, but did make a rare acknowledgment of bad news ahead.

“It will probably unfortunately get worse before it gets better. Something I don’t like saying about things but that’s the way it is. It’s the way — it’s what we have. You look over the world. It’s all over the world. And it tends to do that,” he said.

“If you watch American television, you’d think that the United States was the only country involved with and suffering from the China virus. Well, the world is suffering very badly. But the fact is that many countries are suffering very, very, very badly, and they’ve been suffering from this virus for a long time. We’ve done much better than most and with the fatality rate at a lower rate than most,” Trump said.

Notably, the U.S. is in the top ten countries with the highest mortality rates.

Trump stopped participating in the once near-daily task force briefings at the end of April, not long after suggesting injecting disinfectants to treat COVID-19.

Aides urged him then to end his appearances at the briefings, citing poll numbers, but with more falling poll numbers and surging coronavirus cases, the president has returned to the podium.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany earlier Tuesday said the president’s appearance will be “short” — unlike previous ones where he would sometimes go on for close to two hours — “newsy,” and mostly — but not exclusively — focused on the coronavirus.

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