During his Tulsa rally last weekend, President Trump said the quiet part out loud, confessing that he sees coronavirus testing as a political threat and wants to diminish America’s caseload by doing a worse job of measuring it. “Testing is a double edged sword,” Trump told the sparse Oklahoma crowd. “Here’s the bad part. When you do testing…. you will find more cases. So I said to my people, ‘Slow the testing down, please.’”
After a gaslighty news cycle in which top deputies insisted that Trump was being facetious, Trump clarified, “I don’t kid,” and even expanded his thinking on Twitter: “Cases up only because of our big number testing.”
Science is not Trump’s strong suit. After a precipitous drop, the percentage of positive cases is now rising again — pointing to an increase in disease, not simply a greater availability of diagnostics. And as states like Texas that were largely spared in the initial months of the outbreak have emerged as hot spots, the United States just experienced a record for new cases, with 38,672 in a single day, surpassing a mark from late April.
The real news today is that the U.S. set a record for new cases today: 38,672.
The previous record was April 25 at 36,001. pic.twitter.com/pcFcLUeeKk
— The COVID Tracking Project (@COVID19Tracking) June 24, 2020
Despite — or perhaps because of — these shameful numbers, the administration is following through on Trump’s orders to slow down testing. The Department of Health and Human Services has announced it will pull funding from more than a dozen drive-through testing sites across five states, including Texas, at the end of the month.
The move has left top Democrats incensed: “The pandemic is clearly getting worse in states nationwide,” Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state, the ranking Democrat on the health committee, said in a blast to reporters, “and instead of trying harder to stop it, President Trump is apparently trying harder to hide it.”
Resources are not the issue. This move comes after Democratic senators called out the administration for failing to spend nearly $14 billion that Congress appropriated to increase testing.
Trump’s latest testing remarks build on a long history of him viewing the accurate testing of coronavirus cases as a public-relations threat. In March, when the pandemic was about to explode across America, Trump spoke at the Centers for Disease Control about his reluctance to let in infected passengers of a cruise ship because it would swell the U.S. total, which then stood at just 240 known cases. “I like the numbers being where they are,” Trump said. “I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship.”
Trump hit this theme again in May as the COVID death toll neared 75,000: “In a way, by doing all of this testing,” he said, “we make ourselves look bad.” As the controversy swirled this week, Trump insisted America has done “too good a job” in testing.
The U.S. death toll from COVID is now nearly 125,000. Ironically, 90 percent or more of that grim tally could have been avoided with effective testing. Other developed countries that minimized the impact of this pandemic relied on early, aggressive testing to guide other mitigation efforts.
Read more about how the Trump administration bungled the rollout of America’s coronavirus test, which led to the deadly delay in putting the country on lockdown, in this Rolling Stone exposé.