Nearly four months after the first coronavirus case was reported in the U.S., President Donald Trump continues to struggle to understand how testing for the virus works and why it matters.
Speaking on Thursday at the Owens & Minor distribution center in Allentown, Pennsylvania, Trump attempted to downplay the severity of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak by claiming that the country would not lead the world in cases without it not being there is a lot of testing here – as if coronavirus cases simply wouldn’t exist if we hadn’t tested to find them.
“Remember, we have more cases than anyone else in the world. But why? Because we test more,” Trump said. “When you test, you have a case. When you test, you notice that there is something wrong with people If we hadn’t conducted tests, we would have had very few cases [the media] I don’t want to write that. “
TRUMP: “When you test, you have a case. When you test, you discover that there is something wrong with people. If we didn’t do tests, we would have very few cases.” pic.twitter.com/tEX1uXQbmp
– Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) May 14, 2020
It goes without saying that running more tests correlates with finding more cases, but that’s a good thing. More testing helps public health experts and policy makers understand the full scale of the problem, isolate those who have tested positive, and then track their contacts to help manage potential outbreaks. But for Trump, the downside is that it undermines his argument that it’s already safe for states to raise home warrants that are harming the economy and thereby harming his reelection hopes.
Failure to test the coronavirus could make it easier for Trump to claim that he’s doing a great job of addressing the current public health crisis, but it would make Covid-19 disease even more out of control and more deadly gets way.
Trump should understand this from all people. Last week, Katie Miller, press secretary to Vice President Mike Pence, tested positive for the corona virus. Miller, whose positive test followed Trump’s personal valet test positive, said she was asymptomatic, meaning if she hadn’t been able to test – as is still the case for many people across the country – she may have continued go to work and potentially spread the virus to Pennies, Trump or others who work in the White House.
But if you thought this series of events would serve as a wake-up call to Trump about the importance of companies, schools, and other institutions with similar testing capabilities to the White House, you’d be mistaken. Trump responded to news of Miller’s positive test by claiming it served as proof of “why the whole concept of testing isn’t necessarily great” because “she tested very well for a long time, and all of a sudden she tested positive.”
TRUMP: “Katie, she tested very well for a long time, and then she suddenly tested positive … this is why the whole concept of testing isn’t necessarily great … today, I think, for some reason tested she positive. ‘ pic.twitter.com/xNFEJn3W9s
– Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) May 8, 2020
This is how communicable diseases work – you only have them when you have them. The point of testing is to let people know when they have a disease so that they can take the necessary measures not to spread the disease. This is especially important for viruses such as the coronavirus that can be spread by asymptomatic carriers.
However, Trump has made it clear from the early days of the coronavirus outbreak that he is not exceeding numbers. Think of his comments from early March on how reluctant he was to allow US passengers to leave a coronavirus-infected cruise ship because of the resulting increase in US coronavirus cases.
“I like that the numbers are where they are. I don’t need to double the numbers because of one ship” – Trump explains that he doesn’t want to let people leave the Grand Princess cruise ship because he doesn’t want the number of coronavirus cases in the land is rising pic.twitter.com/ELhZDjiZW9
– Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) March 6, 2020
In his comments in Pennsylvania on Thursday, Trump even went as far as to describe coronavirus testing as “overrated. “But experts broadly agree that US testing capacity must be stepped up to somehow safely reopen businesses and schools.
Whether the President knows it or not, progress is being made in this area.
There is actually good news in the field of testing that Trump could talk about
Despite what Trump wants you to believe, the US is not leading the world in testing. According to data collected by Worldometer, per million people, the US ranks 39th.
That is not to say that test capacity in the US is not improving. As my colleague German Lopez said on Thursday, the roughly 300,000 tests performed daily in the country are now about double the number as of early April. The numbers are still significantly below the 500,000 tests per day which experts say is the minimum necessary to keep the outbreak fully under control, but progress is being made.
However, it’s not the case that the increase in testing has led to the U.S. having more than five times as many cases of coronavirus (over 1.4 million confirmed cases as of May 15) than the second worst country (Russia, with nearly 263,000).
People in the U.S. aren’t just being tested for fun, they even get sick and die. This is reflected not only in the fact that the U.S. has experienced more than double the number of deaths as the second worst affected country (over 85,000, followed by the UK with over 34,000), but also that the U.S. is 13th in the world when it comes to deaths per million people. The high number of cases here is associated with high mortality rates, not just high test numbers.
Ironically, one of the reasons the coronavirus outbreak was so bad here was that the US tested late in February and March, causing the coronavirus to spread largely unnoticed across the country. So when Trump compares America’s raw test numbers favorably with countries like South Korea, as he did in Pennsylvania, he omits the crucial context that South Korea could get the corona virus under control early in a way that the US was not because it that was not more testing capacity during a critical period.
Trump is not so good at such nuances, especially if it has an adverse effect on him. He wants the economy to recover as quickly as possible, which is why he wants schools and companies to reopen as soon as possible. And if that means making a nonsensical case against the idea of object resistance, so be it.