But the data don’t back up that claim. Tellingly, Trump’s commentary is increasingly at odds with GOP allies in the hardest-hit states — the ones most familiar with and accountable for the problem.
After Trump remarked at a rally Saturday that he wanted there to be less coronavirus testing because it makes the problem seem worse, the White House tried to play it off as a joke.
Then Trump on Tuesday morning seemed to undermine that claim, tweeting, “Cases are going up in the U.S. because we are testing far more than any other country, and ever expanding. With smaller testing we would show fewer cases!”
Trump then more directly undermined his staff Tuesday, responding to questions about the remark by saying, “I don’t kid.”
There are myriad problems with this claim, as The Washington Post has detailed before. Philip Bump ran the numbers in the past week, and the Health 202′s Paige Winfield Cunningham has an authoritative rundown Tuesday.
To break it down to its most basic level, if this was just about testing, the percentage of positive tests would be declining. But it’s not — and that’s particularly the case in a trio of emerging hot spots: Arizona, Florida and Texas.
But beyond that, Trump’s attempt to cling to this idea is increasingly dissonant from the stance of GOP leaders in those states.
While both Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) previously echoed Trump’s argument that this was mostly about increased testing, both of them have shifted their tone in recent days, as has Florida Sen. Rick Scott (R), a former governor of that state.
“To state the obvious, covid-19 is now spreading at an unacceptable rate in Texas, and it must be corralled,” Abbott said Monday in a news conference that was notably more urgent than earlier ones.
At his own event Saturday, DeSantis also pivoted from his previous skepticism, saying, “Even with the testing increasing or being flat, the number of people testing positive is accelerating faster than that.”
Both men were stating the obvious. Testing in Florida has indeed been flat over the past month-plus, yet cases are spiking. In Texas, hospitalizations are rising quickly, as is the test-positivity rate, which had been below 5 percent less than a month ago but is now over 10 percent.
Scott was even more direct. In a CNBC interview Monday morning, he said of the spike in cases, “Some might be tied to testing, but it’s clearly not all tied to testing.”
Scott and Abbott have also struck a different note than has Trump when it comes to wearing masks. The president has previously emphasized — conspicuously — that masks are optional, and he held a rally in Oklahoma on Saturday in which few in the crowd were wearing them. Before that rally, Trump said repeatedly in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that masks are a “double-edged sword,” suggesting they could actually be counterproductive because people fidget with them and they cause people to touch their faces. (This is not the consensus of medical experts, who have said masks are a very important part of reemerging in society at a critical time.)
But Abbott on Monday stressed that people such as him who want to reopen Texas need to wear masks. “I know some people think wearing a mask is inconvenient or an infringement on freedom, but I also know it will keep Texas open,” Abbott said.
Scott added on CNBC: “We’ve got to — every one of us — to take this seriously, wear your mask, social distance. Don’t go to places you don’t have to go to.”
DeSantis has resisted a statewide mandate on masks, but his surgeon general Monday issued an advisory stating that “all individuals in Florida should wear face coverings in any setting where social distancing is not possible."
The governor of the other state facing a huge uptick, Arizona’s Doug Ducey (R), has also shifted his stance on masks, saying recently that he would allow mayors to require them in public.
Stressing the importance of wearing a mask is a very logical message for someone who wants to reopen society safely. But along with the warnings about the true nature of the increasing threat, that remains something Trump apparently doesn’t want to hear.