Trump blames testing criticism on politics
President Trump on Monday lashed out at governors who have clamored for more widespread coronavirus testing, accusing them of playing politics or simply being ignorant of resources in their own states.
Trump and other administration officials devoted a significant portion of the daily coronavirus press briefing to outlining efforts to scale up the production of testing materials as governors across the country warn more federal help is needed to increase capacity.
The briefing at times appeared intended to rebuke the criticism directly, with Trump insisting his administration had already done a commendable job and that those who disagreed were trying to score political points.
“Not everybody believes we should do so much testing,” Trump told reporters. “You don’t need so much. We’re talking about maximum, maximum. The reason that the Democrats and some others, maybe, because they don’t know, they want maximum because they want to be able to criticize, because it’s almost impossible to get to the maximum number, and yet we’ve been able to do it already.”
Trump singled out Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, for criticism multiple times. Hogan earlier Monday announced the state had spent about $9 million to purchase 500,000 coronavirus tests from South Korea.
The purchase appeared to catch officials in the briefing off guard. When asked, Vice President Pence said he would follow up with Hogan while Trump went on the attack.
“I don’t think he needed to go to South Korea,” Trump said. “I think he needed to get a little knowledge — would have been helpful.”
Pence and the White House coronavirus task force held a call with governors on Monday and outlined the locations of clinical labs in every state.
Pence and task force coordinator Deborah Birx have said states are not fully using their testing capacities, and both said the call with governors was meant to fix that.
But labs across the country say they are facing persistent shortages of supplies for testing, such as swabs and reagents, meaning that not all testing machines can be used to their full capacity.
Hogan on Monday said he felt the White House wasn’t telling him anything new about his state.
“We already knew where the labs were. Most of the ones on that list were federal labs,” including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Hogan said. “We’ve been pushing to get NIH to help us with testing for more than a month now.”
Hogan said he appreciated some of the administration’s efforts to ease the testing bottleneck, such as using the Defense Production Act to manufacture swabs.
“But the administration made it clear over and over again they want the states to take the lead, and we have to go out and do it ourselves, and so that’s exactly what we did,” Hogan said.
Trump also complained about Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, suggesting the Democrat “didn’t understand” his own state’s testing capacity.
Trump has faced criticism for downplaying the threat of the virus early in the pandemic, and his administration has also taken heat for delays in testing that hampered the country’s ability to respond to the outbreak. Officials previously promised tens of millions of tests would be available by the end of March, but roughly 4 million tests have been conducted thus far.
Officials attributed the lag to a lack of supplies, but the administration has in recent days projected more optimism about its increasing capacity.
Brad Smith, who works at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said Monday that the government expected that millions of additional swabs, cartridges and collection tubes needed to perform testing would be available in the coming weeks.
In the meantime, White House officials reiterated on Monday that states have enough coronavirus tests to enter phase one of the administration’s plan to reopen the economy.
Adm. Brett Giroir, the administration’s testing czar, said the goal to move beyond phase one would be to test “everyone who’s asymptomatic” and overtest the vulnerable population to get a better idea of how widespread the virus is.
The administration said it is currently testing about 150,000 people per day, a number multiple experts have said must rise substantially to safely ease back social distancing measures.
Harvard University researchers on Monday said the U.S. will need to administer 20 million coronavirus tests each day by midsummer in order to fully remobilize the economy in a safe fashion.
Former Food and Drug Administration chief Scott Gottlieb said Monday that the country will need about 3 million tests per week. A separate estimate from Harvard researchers said the U.S. must conduct between 500,000 and 700,00 tests per day by mid-May to begin reopening.
Trump, who seldom acknowledges any mistakes or concedes the federal government should be doing more in the fight against the virus, has in recent days shifted his focus to the debate over testing.
He has repeatedly put the onus on governors to manage their own testing sites and acquire their own supplies while the federal government plays a secondary role.
“Last month all you heard from the Radical Left, Do Nothing Democrats was, ‘Ventilators, Ventilators, Ventilators.’ They screamed it loud & clear, & thought they had us cold, even though it was the State’s task,” Trump tweeted earlier Monday.
“But everyone got their V’s, with many to spare. Now they scream ‘Testing, Testing, Testing,’ again playing a very dangerous political game,” he continued. “States, not the Federal Government, should be doing the Testing – But we will work with the Governors and get it done.”
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