“You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed,” President Trump said in a February 7 call with journalist Bob Woodward.
“And so that’s a very tricky one. That’s a very delicate one. It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flu.”
“This is deadly stuff,” the president repeated for emphasis.
President Trump told Woodward - who won worldwide acclaim for his role in breaking the Watergate scandal in the 1970s - on March 19 that he deliberately minimised the danger.
“I wanted to always play it down,” the president said.
The Washington Post, where Mr Woodward serves as associate editor, reported excerpts of the book, Rage, on Wednesday.
The book also covers race relations, diplomacy with North Korea and a range of other issues that have arisen during the past two years.
The book is based in part on 18 interviews that Mr Woodward conducted with President Trump between December and July.
“Trump never did seem willing to fully mobilise the federal government and continually seemed to push problems off on the states,” Mr Woodward writes.
“There was no real management theory of the case or how to organise a massive enterprise to deal with one of the most complex emergencies the United States had ever faced.”
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said the president’s words to the public were designed to express confidence and calm at a time of insurmountable challenges.
“The president has never lied to the American public on Covid. The president was expressing calm and his actions reflect that,” Ms McEnany said.
Ms McEnany took questions about the book during a briefing at the White House on Wednesday. She said his actions reflect that he took Covid-19 seriously.