Updated at 6:04 p.m. ET
The White House's coronavirus task force convened another briefing on Tuesday to detail the modeling and other data that compelled President Trump to extend virus countermeasures deeper into the spring.
The president had earlier described an imaginary scene of full church pews on Easter Sunday — but then acknowledged Sunday that federal guidelines for social distancing and other mitigation measures would need to remain in place through April 30.
"It's life and death, frankly." Trump said. "It's a matter of life and death."
The president said the coming two weeks would be especially difficult as authorities expect the spike in deaths to continue.
"I want every American to be prepared for the hard days that lie ahead," Trump said. "We're going to go through a very tough two weeks." Then, he said, "you're going to start seeing some light at the end of the tunnel."
Task force members used Tuesday's briefing to detail the metrics that informed those warnings and prompted Trump to extend the countermeasure guidelines.
The blue mountain
Trump said on Monday that two top doctors helping to steer the coronavirus response had shown him estimates that 2 million Americans could die if the nation went back to normal life too early.
Even an "almost perfect" response still could result in 200,000 deaths, warned one of Trump's key advisers, Dr. Deborah Birx.
Birx showed reporters at the White House a chart on Tuesday that showed what she called a "blue mountain" of deaths hitting a peak of around 2.2 million without the countermeasures that have been ordered.
Social distancing and other protocols cause that estimated curve to be shallower, which is why they're so essential, Birx said. But she also warned that the "stark reality" of the coronavirus justifies the grave two-week warning Trump gave and underscores why she said Americans must continue to isolate and take the other precautionary measures.
The United States is still climbing the statistical curve of infections as the virus spreads into and within new regions such as the South and the Midwest.
With no other option, Americans must continue to stay home, keep apart, wash their hands and take the other steps that public health officials have urged, Birx said.
"It's communities that will do this," she said. "There's no magic bullet. There's no magic vaccine or therapy. It's just behaviors."
The number of test-confirmed cases nationwide is nearing 200,000, and more than 3,400 Americans have died as of Tuesday afternoon, per Johns Hopkins University.
Another top White House adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, told reporters that the coming weeks' worth of data might be grim, but he said that the nation must hold fast.
"We're going to continue to see things go up," he said. "We cannot be discouraged by that, because the mitigation is actually working."
Fauci said the United States can't "take its foot off the accelerator and put it onto the brakes — I know that's what we can do over the next 30 days."
Life in isolation
Americans in many places are under more stringent restrictions than those in the federal guidelines. Governors and mayors have ordered people to stay at home and business to close through May and into June in some cases.
Trump and Vice President Pence sustained a vision for a phase in which at least some locations could relax their efforts on pandemic mitigation to bring portions of the economy back to life. The new data, however, cooled that ardor.
Already millions of people have filed for unemployment benefits nationwide. Washington is beginning to implement a $2 trillion relief program and members of Congress are discussing the prospect of more such legislation.
Prospect for an era of masks
One question on Tuesday was whether the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention might open the door partly toward normalization with a recommendation that most Americans wear masks outdoors.
Dr. Robert Redfield, the CDC director, told NPR member station WABE in Atlanta that roughly 25% of coronavirus sufferers may be asymptomatic and continue to transmit the virus.
That could compel the CDC to recommend that when people go outside their homes, they should cover their faces in case they're carrying the virus and don't know it, Redfield acknowledged.
No such actual recommendation is yet in place, and Redfield told WABE that anything the CDC issues would be informed by science and data about the pandemic.