“I haven’t heard about testing in weeks,” Trump said. “We’ve tested more now than any nation in the world. We’ve got these great tests, and we’ll come out with another one tomorrow that’s, you know, almost instantaneous testing. But I haven’t heard anything about testing being a problem.”
If he hasn’t heard it, he hasn’t been listening.
While testing has ramped up significantly this month and there is newfound promise in more instantaneous testing hitting the market, governors and other health officials have continued to say the availability of testing is a problem. Trump’s own top health officials in recent days have acknowledged that testing is still insufficient to truly get a handle on the scope of the outbreak.
Even after Trump’s comments were reported late Monday, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) went on CNN on Tuesday morning and made clear that testing is still an obstacle in his state.
When talking about how unsure Ohio is about the trajectory of infections in it, DeWine said that “part of this is driven by the fact that we don’t have widespread testing."
Another Republican governor, Maryland’s Larry Hogan, echoed DeWine on Tuesday morning when asked on NPR about Trump’s comments.
“Yeah, that’s just not true,” Hogan said. “No state has enough testing."
Other governors — Republican and Democratic — have offered similar warnings recently.
In a letter to Trump a week before his comments Monday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) spotlighted the lack of testing available to his state while urging Trump to declare a major emergency there.
“The state is faced with many issues to overcome, including a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), needed medical equipment, testing supplies, and more,” Abbott wrote.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) said the day before Trump’s comments that testing is still a problem in his state.
“Right now, all of the experts point to 10,000 tests to the standard that we need to achieve,” he said Sunday, adding: “Again, I want to be frank with you: Where we are now is not where I want to be. Every day we aren’t hitting 10,000 tests or more is a day we are not able to get answers to get past this current crisis.”
Pritzker also posted a chart to Twitter that said, “Despite promising millions of tests from the beginning, the federal government has not delivered.”
The White House’s task force and Trump personally have been more focused on playing up the improvement than the continued problems. Trump has repeatedly noted that the United States has tested more people than South Korea, despite South Korea still being way ahead on a per capita basis.
But even health officials have acknowledged continued issues with testing.
In an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, agreed with host Jake Tapper’s premise that “because of the lag in testing, there could be hot spots in all sorts of cities that we don’t know.”
Fauci added: “It still is not a perfect situation, because I’m sure people will be calling up and saying, ‘I needed to get a test, and I couldn’t get it.’ Hopefully, that’s much, much less frequently than we saw a week or two ago.”
Deborah Birx added at Wednesday’s White House briefing that certain states were doing enough testing to get a handle on how bad the situations in them are, but she acknowledged there was much work to be done on that front.
“We have to expand testing for surveillance” to get a true picture of the outbreak, said Birx, the coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force.
Hospital groups have also continued to raise red flags.
“Since the U.S. still doesn’t have enough tests to meet demand, the most immediate action we can take right now is to prioritize who gets tested,” a representative of the American Clinical Laboratory Association told NPR on Wednesday.
Dwayne Allen Breining, the executive director of New York’s Northwell Health system told Stat News in a story published Wednesday morning that testing still needs to not just increase substantially but to multiply:
To control the pandemic, Breining said, you’d want to test enough people that the percent of positive tests falls to about 10%. At Northwell, this “positivity rate” can approach 50% on some days.“That positivity rate tells us we’re only testing a fifth of the patients we’d want to be testing, ideally, if we had unlimited testing available,” Breining said.
The thing about Trump’s comment is that he didn’t say coronavirus testing isn’t a problem; he said he hadn’t even heard the recent complaints and suggested that this had been the case for “weeks.” As these comments show, the reservations about the current availability of — and speed of — testing have been prevalent over that time span.
Trump has in recent days adjusted his tone on the potential toll of the coronavirus in a more serious direction, but there remain real questions about whether his optimistic comments about the success of his administration’s response reflect a political effort to spin it in a positive direction, or if he is blind to continued shortcomings. This private comment, more than most, suggests it could be the latter.