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Trump says testing may be 'frankly overrated'

The Hill logo The Hill 5/14/2020 Brett Samuels and Jessie Hellmann
Donald Trump holding a sign: Trump says testing may be 'frankly overrated' © Getty Images Trump says testing may be 'frankly overrated'

President Trump on Thursday suggested the practice of widespread coronavirus testing may be "overrated," even as health experts insist it is critical to safely loosen restrictions and reopen businesses.

Trump boasted about the United States' testing capabilities during remarks at a Pennsylvania medical equipment distribution center, where he announced the country has administered 10 million tests since the outbreak began.

"We have the best testing in the world," Trump told employees at Owens & Minor, Inc., in Allentown. "Could be that testing's, frankly, overrated. Maybe it is overrated.

"But we have the greatest testing in the world," he added. "But what we want is we want to get rid of this thing. That's what we want."

Slideshow by photo services

The U.S. has more than 1.4 million confirmed coronavirus cases, by far the most of any country in the world. But Trump suggested the soaring infection numbers were merely a reflection of America's testing capacity.

"We have more cases than anybody in the world, but why? Because we do more testing," Trump said. "When you test, you have a case. When you test you find something is wrong with people. If we didn't do any testing we would have very few cases. They don't want to write that. It's common sense. We test much more."

The Trump administration has drawn intense criticism for its slow initial rollout of coronavirus testing in February and March when the first U.S. cases were reported. Even as testing has ramped up, lawmakers have questioned why the federal government has failed to outline a national testing strategy and instead deferred to states.

The president has been relentlessly positive in assessing his administration's performance, declaring earlier this week that the U.S. has "prevailed" on testing as he pushes for states to loosen restrictions intended to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Administration officials have pointed to the sheer volume of tests conducted in the U.S. being higher than other countries, though experts have noted places like South Korea began widespread testing much earlier and have not seen the same level of infections.

Nearly 10 million tests have been completed in the U.S. since March, according to The COVID Tracking Project, marking a significant improvement from the early days of the outbreak. The percentage of tests coming back positive has fallen below 10 percent and continues to drop, an indicator a country is doing enough testing, according to the World Health Organization.

Still, public health experts say the U.S. should be running hundreds of thousands of more tests per day before the country can safely reopen or risk new outbreaks, needless death and more economic damage.

"It was inadequate testing that precipitated the national shutdown. We must not make the same mistakes again as we open up our nation," Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, told House lawmakers during a briefing Wednesday.

Testing varies widely from state to state and some areas are still seeing very high percentages of tests coming back positive, indicating they are not testing enough people. If states reopen without having enough testing in place, they can miss cases that turn into large outbreaks.

Trump's testing comments on Thursday came amid a speech in which he announced the U.S. would seek to replenish its national stockpile with enough masks, ventilators and other supplies to prepare for potential future outbreaks.

"Our effort begins by dramatically increasing our reserves," he said. "Instead of one-to-three weeks worth of supplies... the U.S. government will now stockpile three whole months, much of it made in the U.S.A."

Trump's remarks often times took on the tone of a campaign rally. The president walked on stage to "God Bless the U.S.A.," the same song that blares at his arena rallies when he enters. He also left the stage to the tune of his typical rally exit song, "You Can't Always Get What You Want."

In between, Trump swiped at presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden by calling him "Sleepy Joe" and criticizing the Obama administration's response to the Swine Flu pandemic a decade ago.

The president also chastised the media - another staple of his usual campaign rallies - and boasted about the strength of the economy before the pandemic led to staggering job losses."

"You saw how good those numbers were, going up, up, up," he said. "We're going to have an interruption, but you watch what happens starting in the fourth quarter. Probably starting in the third quarter a little bit... We're going to be bigger and better than ever."

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