Three months since the president declared a national emergency over the greatest public-health crisis in decades, he still does not understand the basic mechanisms for analyzing and controlling the pandemic. On Monday, President Trump blamed the current surge in cases in over a dozen states on testing rather than the increased exposure that comes with a return to normal — or normal-ish — life. “If we stop testing right now, we’d have very few cases, if any,” Trump said at a White House event for seniors.
It’s a bold statement even for a president who has willfully ignored and actively dismantled pandemic response procedures since the beginning of the crisis. (In February and March, Trump described a virus which has killed over 116,000 Americans as “very mild” and “a hoax.”) Put simply, testing is not the cause of the post–Memorial Day surge but an essential part of mitigating the spread of the virus, allowing local, state, and federal officials to determine where to treat hot spots so they don’t become major outbreaks.
The low-information message — there wouldn’t be any cases if we didn’t test for cases — is consistent both with the president’s larger anti-science commitment and his administration’s gross failures on testing in the early days of the pandemic, which caused the United States to fall substantially behind other countries whose responses had the benefit of massive testing rates and universal health care. The gap between foreign responses and the negligence of state and federal officials continues to reveal its damage: As a dozen states experience an uptick in coronavirus cases, many countries have returned to the rhythms (and safely crowded events) of pre-pandemic life.
President Trump isn’t the only figure in the administration casting doubt on the usefulness of high testing rates — despite his promise in April that he would increase U.S. testing to 5 million conducted per day. At the same event on Monday, Vice-President Mike Pence agreed with Trump, saying that the spike in cases can be explained by a “dramatic increase in testing.” Meanwhile, the actual public-health experts tasked with handling the pandemic have been sidelined, as the president pushes a message of economic reopening and hosts packed events celebrating himself.