Trump says US has 'prevailed' on testing

The White House on Monday sought to contain the fallout of positive coronavirus tests within its own walls, simultaneously projecting confidence about America’s readiness to reopen while implementing new protocols meant to limit exposure inside the building.

The juxtaposition was on full display at a press briefing in the Rose Garden.

Two giant banners hung behind the podium declaring “America leads the world in testing.” Meanwhile, roughly a dozen White House officials seated a few feet apart from one another were all wearing masks, and speakers used a different podium several feet away from the president.

ADVERTISEMENT

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTwitter CEO: 'Not true' that removing Trump campaign video was illegal, as president has claimed Biden formally clinches Democratic presidential nomination Barr says he didn't give 'tactical' command to clear Lafayette protesters MORE declared his administration had “prevailed” on testing. He cited the increase in testing resources, which have allowed the U.S. to conduct more than 9 million tests to date. 

His testing czar, Adm. Brett Giroir, said that “everybody who needs a test can get a test,” including those who have symptoms and those who have come in contact with individuals who have tested positive. 

Trump at times appeared to go a step further, saying every American who wants to get tested daily as they return to work could do so “very soon,” an unrealistic proposal given that the U.S. is currently conducting roughly 300,000 tests per day. Giroir has said previously that the administration expects to conduct 8 million tests in total for the month of May. 

The president, who has been clamoring for states to begin lifting restrictions that have forced businesses to shutter and put millions of Americans out of work, used the figures to cast a rosy outlook for the economy in the months to come.

“We’re transitioning to greatness,” Trump said, predicting the country would see a significant turnaround by the end of the year.

The briefing came as the White House grappled with the ripple effects of one of Trump’s personal valets and Vice President Pence’s press secretary, Katie Miller, both testing positive for the novel coronavirus late last week.

ADVERTISEMENT

Pence worked at the White House on Monday but was not present at the press briefing, a sign he is trying to keep his distance from other officials after one of his top aides tested positive.

Three members of the White House coronavirus task force have since announced they would go into some form of self-quarantine out of an abundance of caution after Pence’s press secretary sat in on a meeting last week. 

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R), who met with Pence last Friday and visited the White House last Wednesday, said Monday she would go into a “modified quarantine."

And in the most visible shift yet, the White House on Monday issued a memo directing all West Wing staff to wear face coverings if they were not sitting at their desks or able to maintain social distancing, in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations.

Trump dismissed any cause for concern over the positive tests, saying he felt “no vulnerability whatsoever.”

“We have hundreds and hundreds of people a day pouring into the White House. It’s a massive office complex,” Trump said. “So I think we’re really doing a very good job in watching it, and I think it’s very well contained, actually. And part of the reason, it is because of all the tests we’re able to give.”

The effort to contain the fallout of the positive tests underscored the difficulty Trump will have convincing much of the nation that it is safe to return to work when most businesses lack the extensive testing apparatus and contact tracing abilities present at the White House.

The virus has killed more than 80,000 Americans, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University, and health experts have warned a spike in illness will likely occur as states lift restrictions meant to slow its spread. 

Trump was asked repeatedly Monday why Americans should feel comfortable returning to their workplaces if they don’t have the same testing resources as the White House. He generally avoided the questions, at one point suggesting a reporter was “complaining” that the White House was getting too many tests.

But public health officials have repeatedly said there must be a significant increase in testing capacity before states can safely reopen. Researchers at Harvard University have recommended the U.S. test 900,000 individuals per day in order for the country to safely relax coronavirus restrictions. 

Trump himself has downplayed the need to dramatically scale up testing. He seemed to cast doubt on the efficacy of testing when he said last week that Miller had tested positive “out of the blue” after testing negative a day prior. 

Even as the virus has inched close to the president, he has continued to express dismay with states that have been slow to allow businesses to reopen. He has previously backed protesters in Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia who opposed those states’ stay-at-home orders, and on Monday he targeted Pennsylvania over its restrictions.

ADVERTISEMENT

Data shows that coronavirus hot spots are emerging in rural areas, and states that are moving to reopen, such as Texas and Iowa, have yet to meet the White House's criteria for doing so.

Trump has at times turned it into a political issue, blaming Democratic governors for dragging their feet. But the issue of the economy is inherently political for the president, who has tied his reelection prospects closely to how quickly it can bounce back from the pandemic.

“The people want to go back. The numbers are getting to a point where they can, and there just seems to be no effort on certain blue states to get back into gear. And the people aren’t going to stand for it. They want to get back,” Trump said.

“Safety is paramount, but people are dying in the lockdown position too,” he added.