The US president clashed with ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos over the issue at a town hall special in the battleground state of Pennsylvania on Tuesday.
During the event, Mr Trump sought to counter his recorded admission to journalist Bob Woodward that he was deliberately “playing it down” when discussing the threat of Covid-19 to Americans earlier this year.
Mr Trump also told Mr Stephanopoulos that the virus would disappear without a vaccine, claiming the nation would develop a “herd mentality”.
When questioned about telling Mr Woodward how he downplayed the pandemic, the president said: “With a leader of a great country, we want to keep it that way. I don’t want to scare people. I don’t want to make people panic.
“You’re not going to go out and say this is going to be death, death, death. You have got to run a country.”
Mr Stephanopoulos then said: “All through January and February, you were downplaying, by your own admission, the severity of the crisis as you didn’t want to panic people.”
Mr Trump began to interrupt to say: “Not downplaying” and the host protested that he was not letting him finish the question.
“Those are your words,” Mr Stephanopolous interjected.
Mr Trump said: “I don’t want to drive our nation into a panic. I’m a cheerleader for this country. I’m the one that closed up this country. I closed it up long before the experts thought I should.”
Despite audio of his comments being released, the president also said: “Yeah, well, I didn’t downplay it. I actually, in many ways, I up-played it, in terms of action.”
“My action was very strong,” he added. “I’m not looking to be dishonest. I don’t want people to panic.”
During the town hall event, the president also claimed that Covid-19 would go away with herd “mentality”.
He said: “You’ll develop, you’ll develop herd, like a herd mentality.
“It’s going to be herd-developed, and that’s going to happen. That will all happen. But with a vaccine, I think it will go away very quickly.”
On other topics, Mr Trump cast doubt on the widely accepted scientific conclusions of his own administration strongly urging the use of face coverings and seemed to bat away the suggestion that the nation has racial inequities.
“Well, I hope there’s not a race problem,” he said, when asked by an audience member about his campaign rhetoric seeming to ignore the historical injustices carried out against Black Americans.
While addressing questions on face coverings, the president said: “There are people that don’t think masks are good.”
This was despite his own Centers for Disease Control and Prevention strongly urging their use.
Mr Trump also insisted he was not wrong when he praised China’s response to the virus in January and February, saying he trusted Xi Jinping, the Chinese leader.
“He told me that it was under control, that everything was and it turned out to be not true,” Mr Trump said.
The event was a warm-up of sorts before Trump faces Democratic nominee Joe Biden in the first presidential debate on September 29.
Taped at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, it featured Trump taking questions from an audience of just 21 voters to comply with state and local coronavirus regulations.