He’s getting a bit of bad rap on social media for what he said here. Let’s start at the beginning, though, on Saturday night in Tulsa when he said this:
Trump: When you do testing to that extent, you’re going to find more people. You’re going to find more cases. So I said to my people slow the testing down please. pic.twitter.com/RalPJeVH0F
— Acyn Torabi (@Acyn) June 21, 2020
“Slow the testing down, please”? Is that why testing in the U.S. was so woefully scant early on in the pandemic? The president deliberately sabotaged it for political reasons?
Kayleigh McEnany was asked about it at yesterday’s briefing and said, nah, he was just joking. Then Trump himself was asked about it this morning at an impromptu press gaggle. Is it true that you were just kidding, Mr. President? To which he replied: “I don’t kid.”
So … he did sabotage testing? Watch below. The “I don’t kid” line aside, it sounds here like he’s saying that more testing is good on the merits in that it helps us find “hidden” infections but bad politically in the sense that rising case counts can be held against him. He’s made that last point numerous times, but at least he sounds reasonably appreciative of the virtues of testing here: “By having more cases, it sounds bad. But, actually, what it is is we’re finding people.”
Reporter: "When you said you asked your people to slow down testing, were you just kidding, or do you have a plan to slow down testing?"
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) June 23, 2020
Fauci and others vouched for him during his House testimony this morning:
Rep Pallone directly asks all 4 witnesses if the President ever directed to slow down testing
Dr Fauci, Hahn, Admiral Giroir & Redfield all testify no
— Ali Zaslav (@alizaslav) June 23, 2020
Trump cited Fauci in his own defense on testing earlier this morning, in fact:
….Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is with us in all ways, a very high 72% Approval Rating. So, if he is in charge along with V.P. etc., and with us doing all of these really good things, why doesn’t the Lamestream Media treat us as they should? Answer: Because they are Fake News!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 23, 2020
Trump is also correct in the clip when he says that the U.S. leads the world in total testing. That’s been true for a long time and it remains true, with more than 29 million tests conducted here compared to 17 million by second-place Russia. (China’s numbers are a black box, as always.) America has also made great strides relative to the rest of the world in tests per capita. We’re 16th in that category among nations with populations of one million people or greater. Among those with populations of 10 million or greater, we’re sixth. Italy, Germany, and France, among other nations, all do less testing per capita than the United States does.
Where Trump goes wrong in his answer is when he implies that greater testing accounts for the rising case counts across the country. Essentially he’s encouraging people to focus on the positivity rate, i.e. the number of confirmed cases divided by the number of tests, as a better metric of whether the epidemic is actually growing or shrinking. And that’s true: Because wider testing will uncover more infections, a rise in cases doesn’t necessarily mean that there are more cases out there. It could simply mean that the number of cases is steady but we’re finding more of them because we’re testing more aggressively.
But that’s not what’s happening right now. The number of cases really is growing and the positivity rate shows it:
The rate nationally was 4.4 percent a few weeks ago and has inched upwards to 5.4 percent now. There are huge regional differences, of course. In New York State, the rate has declined to just 1.0 percent. In Arizona, it’s, uh…
Texas’s positivity rate has doubled since late May. Florida’s rate dipped to 2.3 percent in late May but has soared to 12.2 percent now. The trigger in new hot spots appears to have been a combination of more economic activity after reopening plus people stupidly throwing caution to the wind on Memorial Day weekend, which is around the time that the rate began rising in all of these states.
Another tell: Hospitalizations for COVID-19 are at record levels in Arizona and Texas, with one doctor at Baylor predicting that Houston could soon look like Brazil if it doesn’t change the trajectory of the wave it’s experiencing. There’s no “positivity rate” dynamic with hospitalizations or deaths, needless to say. If those are going up, almost by definition the total number of infections in a jurisdiction is rising as well.
And then there’s this:
Testing in US and EU is roughly equivalent.
Here is the difference in cases: pic.twitter.com/OqHym986p5
— ian bremmer (@ianbremmer) June 23, 2020
This model of transmission rates claims that there are now more states where the epidemic is growing than where it’s shrinking. I realize that the president would prefer to believe that the rising case counts are purely functions of more testing, as that would keep the country laser-focused on his goal of reopening everywhere and reviving the economy in time for Election Day, but if even the governor of Texas is warning about new lockdowns, it just ain’t so. These are real outbreaks. Whether we need to start closing businesses again to contain them remains to be seen.
I’ll leave you with this. Team Biden knows a good self-sabotaging soundbite when they hear one:
It's pretty simple: If we want to save people's jobs and save people's lives, we need more testing — and we need it faster. The President is intentionally slowing it down. https://t.co/bu1oq1TwzL
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) June 23, 2020