President Donald Trump’s latest comments about the United States’ coronavirus testing problem come straight out of the playbook he used to downplay the coronavirus problem in January and February. That’s not a reassuring thing.
Trump seems to be in denial about the reality that experts say the US needs to more than double its daily coronavirus testing capacity in order to safely relax stringent social distancing. To hear him and other White House officials like Jared Kushner tell it, states already have more than enough testing resources to get on with reopening schools and businesses. (Governors disagree.)
Trump’s dismissiveness of the testing problem was demonstrated by his most recent press conference on Tuesday. The president responded to questions about the state- and private sector-centric testing plan he unveiled the day before — one that, even if executed properly, would fall far short of what’s needed — with a mix of brazen lies, nonsensical deflection, and wishful thinking.
“We are the best in the world in testing. We’ve tested much more than anybody else, times two. Or every country combined — we’ve tested more than every country combined,” Trump said, falsely, as the US has not even come close close to doing more testing than all other countries combined.
“We inherited a very broken test, a broken system, and a broken test,” Trump continued, seemingly trying to blame his predecessor — President Obama, who left office in 2017 — for his own government’s costly initial failure to develop an effective test for a virus that didn’t even exist until late last year, let alone reach the US until he had been in office for three full years.
REPORTER: Experts say the US needs to do 5 million tests per day to safely reopen. Why doesn't your testing plan go that far?— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) April 28, 2020
TRUMP: "We inherited a very broken test." (The coronavirus didn't even exist until nearly 3 years into his term as president) pic.twitter.com/XjlIxbmMjg
As illogical as his responses might be, Trump’s effort to shift blame is meant to obfuscate from the fact that while the raw numbers of tests completed are piling up thanks to the passage of time, the per-day numbers continue to fall short.
According to the Covid Tracking Project, the US is currently conducting about 220,000 coronavirus tests a day. Experts broadly agree that at least 500,000 per day is needed, and some think as many as 5 million daily tests are necessary to adequately identify and contain Covid-19 outbreaks.
The testing plan Trump unveiled on Monday would only get the US up to about 260,000 tests a day by the end of May — a slight improvement over the current state of affairs, but one that still falls far short of what’s needed.
But when Trump was asked on Tuesday if he’s confident that the country can do 5 million tests a day soon, his response bordered on the delusional.
“We’re going to be there very soon. If you look at the numbers, it could be that we’re getting very close,” Trump said, ignoring that 260,000 is nowhere near 5 million — and that such a sharp uptick would require the sort of increase in the production of test materials that’s proven impossible so far. “We’re gonna be there very soon.”
Trump says the US is "getting very close" to conducting 5 million tests per day (the US is currently conducting about 200,000 tests per day, so this is a lie) pic.twitter.com/1IrUboariP— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) April 28, 2020
Those comments were troublingly reminiscent of what Trump was saying about the coronavirus back in February and March, when he was insisting everything was under control and the virus would go away on its own, “like a miracle.”
Those claims were obviously false at the time, and look even worse 1 million confirmed US cases and nearly 60,000 deaths later. Trump’s claims about testing are likely to also age poorly, and even more so if he keeps pushing for states to reopen businesses and schools without the testing capacity needed to keep the virus under control.
Trump, however, made it abundantly clear on Tuesday that he’s still engaged in wishful thinking. Pressed by a reporter about how he can be so confident that the worst of the pandemic is behind us even as deaths continue to mount and no vaccine or effective treatments are available, Trump expressed blind faith, then pivoted to talking about his hopes for a sharp economic rebound in time for November’s election.
“I think what happens is it’s going to go away. This is gonna go away,” Trump said, adding later: “I really believe that fourth quarter is gonna be, maybe tremendous.”