A Pennsylvania National Guard Soldier straps a shield over her face before the start of COVID-19 testing practice at Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., on April 19, 2020. The practice consisted of walk-throughs of the operation of the lanes that would be run by teams from the Pa. National Guard, Pennsylvania Department of Health and Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Keeler).

THE NEUTRAL ZONE

At a campaign rally in Oklahoma this weekend, President Donald Trump told the audience, “When you do testing to that extent [25 million total] you’re gonna find more people you’re gonna find more cases. So I said to my people, slow down the testing, please.”

After receiving backlash over the statement, administration officials including the White House trade adviser Peter Navarro have called President Trump’s comment “tongue in cheek”, citing increased testing and denying that the president actually ordered officials to reduce efforts. 

President Trump claimed increased testing would lead to more cases, although Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious-disease expert, warned the number to watch is really the percent of positive tests. Early on in the pandemic, experts pushed for a positive rate of under 10%.

Democrats critical of the president pointed out that $8 billion allocated by Congress in the April stimulus has yet to be spent on expanded testing and contract tracing. A spokesperson for the Biden campaign, Kate Bedingfield, said, “It is very clear that this president has not taken this crisis seriously from the outset…Donald Trump seems to have viewed this virus as a joke, and for Americans across the country it is not.”

This past week, the U.S. reached the minimum number of tests experts predict will help curb the spread of the virus, at just over 500,000 each day. This is a sharp increase from earlier in the pandemic when about 5,000 tests were administered per day across the country.

MEDIA PERSPECTIVE

McEnany denies Trump ordered slowdown in coronavirus testing, says rally comment was made ‘in jest’ – Fox News – 6/22/2020
“Any suggestion that testing has been curtailed is not rooted in fact,” she added… McEnany reckoned that the president was trying to expose the media for ignoring the fact that “the U.S. has more cases because we have more testing. We are leading the world in testing.”

‘This is unfortunately not a joke’: Harvard doctor reacts to Trump’s comments on COVID-19 testing at Tulsa rally – Boston – 6/22/2020
“It’s actually very consistent with the policy we’ve been seeing coming out of the White House,” he said. “An effort to not put too much time and effort into ramping up testing. And this is incredibly frustrating for the millions of Americans who have gotten sick and have not been able to get tests. It’s got to be incredibly frustrating for people who have lost family members in nursing homes.”

Trump refuses to say if he slowed down coronavirus testing – The Hill – 6/22/2020
Following Trump’s comments at the rally, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Patty Murray, the top Democrat on the Senate Health Committee, said the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has yet to spend $14 billion of the $25 billion appropriated by Congress to improve access to testing and contact tracing…“This administration will put our country at grave risk if it tries to declare an early victory, leave lifesaving work undone, and leave resources our communities desperately need sitting untouched.”

Pelosi condemns Trump’s remarks about slowing down coronavirus testing – The Washington Post – 6/22/2020
Trump’s comments drew a chorus of criticism from congressional Democrats and public health officials, who said it validated fears that the president was more focused on saving face amid the pandemic than on protecting public health. A White House official told The Washington Post that Trump was joking, a common defense from Trump’s aides when he says something controversial.

INFLUENCER PERSPECTIVE

Philip Bump on Twitter, 6/22/2020: The “slow the testing down” line was pretty clearly Trump trying to make a joke, for what it’s worth, though of course he’s sympathetic to the central point.

KPAX Missoula News on Twitter, 6/22/2020: Exclusive: Trump commits to 2nd stimulus package, doesn’t say if he ordered testing to slow

Weijia Jiang on Twitter, 6/22/2020: NEW: A White House official says Trump was JK when he was talking about slowing down testing to suppress # of cases: “He was clearly speaking in jest to call out the media’s absurd coverage. We are leading the world in testing, and we are proud to have conducted 25M plus tests.”

Joe Biden on Twitter, 6/22/2020: I can’t believe I have to say this, but we should be speeding up testing — not slowing it down

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