WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump repeated an assertion that coronavirus testing is “overrated” and said he would not seek widespread screenings if there is a nationwide spike, his latest broadside against an effort that public health experts say is critical to containing the virus.
“I personally think testing is overrated, even though I created the greatest testing machine in history,” Trump told the Wall Street Journal in an interview published Thursday. He added that expanded testing led to a rise in confirmed coronavirus cases that “in many ways, it makes us look bad.”
The president has been ratcheting up his criticism of coronavirus testing for weeks to explain a rise in daily confirmed cases found in several Sun Belt states. While it is true that more testing leads to more confirmed cases, experts have said that other factors – including the relaxation of stay-at-home orders – are also at play.
Trump on Monday blamed the new wave of cases on increased testing and suggested that, without testing, there would be few new cases. White House officials later clarified that Trump meant there would be fewer confirmed cases if testing was suspended.
“If we stop testing right now, we’d have very few cases, if any,” Trump said this week.
Asked about that statement, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said it was “entirely logical.”
“When you do more testing, you identify more cases,” she said. “Countries that don’t do as much testing don’t identify the same number of cases.”
Several states, including Arizona, South Carolina, Texas and Florida, have seen increases in cases recently. Though experts haven’t agreed on an explanation, some said both lifting lockdown restrictions and isolated outbreaks have played a role.
Trump has leaned hard on governors and local officials to reopen their economies.
The president has argued for weeks that the high number of coronavirus cases in the U.S. is a reflection of the nation’s testing regime. It is a narrative that Trump is likely to echo on the campaign trail ahead of this November’s election.
While the U.S. has ramped up testing – the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more than 25 million tests have been administered as of Wednesday – the effort is still less than many other countries on a per capita basis.
“Without testing, or weak testing, we would be showing almost no cases,” the president tweeted earlier Monday. “Testing is a double edged sword – Makes us look bad, but good to have!!!” His comments Monday echoed remarks he has been making for weeks, dismissing increases as based entirely on expanded testing rather than other factors.
“If we didn’t do any testing, we would have very few cases,” Trump said during an event on May 15. During that same event, Trump said of testing: “Maybe it is overrated.”
He made a similar point weeks earlier in the Oval Office.
“So the media likes to say we have the most cases, but we do, by far, the most testing. If we did very little testing, we wouldn’t have the most cases,” Trump said on May 6. “So, in a way, by doing all of this testing, we make ourselves look bad.”
In April, the Trump administration announced guidelines to ease social distancing. Those new recommendations called for a 14-day decline in confirmed cases or a decline in positive tests as a percentage of total tests within that period. But some states didn’t meet those federal government guidelines before reopening.
Florida’s first reopening phase began May 18. Not only had the state failed to meet a two week decline in cases, it actually reported an increase per day a week before reopening. According to Johns Hopkins University data, Florida reported 594 cases on May 10. Five days later, there were more than 800 cases.
“This virus is much more spotty,” Arnold Monto, professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan School for Public Health told USA TODAY last week. “It is so complicated that when people give you a simple answer to this, it’s probably not right.”
Another reason some states may be experiencing unexpected spikes is because of “super spreaders,” events or enclosed community outbreaks, experts say. A super spreader is an infected person who can transmit the disease to a large number of people.