The inadequacy of testing for the virus has been a constant deficiency of the government’s handling of the pandemic from the start. Fixing this deficiency, as well as creating antibody testing that can identify if someone has already had the disease and may be less apt to get it again, may be the key to effectively reopening the economy while preventing a second wave of infections. It could also help identify which workers can return to work, and those who still present a risk of infection.
Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN on Friday that those antibody tests are coming “within a period of a week or so” and would be especially important “for health care workers, for first-line fighters.”
But the continued lack of a robust testing program, despite weeks of claims by Trump that the problem is fixed, is raising stark new questions about the White House’s management of the situation. After being slow to recognize the extent of the pandemic, the testing shortfall means the administration is yet to prove it is capable of charting an effective path out of the crisis.
The new testing controversy came at the end of a grim week in which thousands of Americans have died from coronavirus. More than 462,000 Americans have now been infected and more than 16,000 have died. The human tragedy inherent in such figures is taking the edge of optimistic talk in the administration that the virus may have peaked in some US hotspots. A model often cited by the White House also this week reduced the total of Americans it believes could die from the disease to 60,000.
Medical professionals and state and local leaders still say testing is not sufficiently widespread nor fast to trace the full penetration of the novel coronavirus in the community.
Fauci said Friday that while the novel coronavirus antibody tests being developed and validated could be available “within a period of a week or so,” to work to identify someone who had the virus recently, the current test used to diagnose coronavirus cases still would be needed to identify current coronavirus infection.
Many people who get sick aren’t tested unless they go to hospitals. Some Americans have died before it is even confirmed that they had the disease. Other countries – such as South Korea and Germany that have succeeded in limiting the spread of the virus – have conducted heavy testing. The President, whose leadership during these somber days is crucial to his reelection hopes, habitually shrugs off such questions.
On Thursday, he celebrated the two-millionth coronavirus test on US soil, after White House officials administered coronavirus tests to reporters who attended his briefing.
Asked by CNN’s Jim Acosta how the administration could contemplate reopening the economy without sufficient testing in place, Trump insisted the US system was “the best in the world.”
“There are certain sections in the country that are in phenomenal shape already, other sections are coming online, other sections are going down, and we, in addition to that, are giving out millions of tests every day,” the President said.
“We’re doing it exponentially, we’re picking up, and what we’ll be doing in the very near future is going to certain areas of our country and do massive testing. It’s not necessary but it would be a good thing to have,” he said.
But seconds later, the President however appeared to contradict his own comment that the administration would put in place “massive testing” in some areas of the country.
“We want to have it and we’re going to see if we have it. Do you need it? No. Is it a nice thing to do? Yes,” Trump said. “We’re talking about 325 million people and that’s not going to happen, as you can imagine, and it would never happen with anyone else, either. Other countries do it but they do it in a limited form. We’ll probably be the leader of the pack.”
The comment was typical of the imprecision with which Trump, who takes the lead in daily coronavirus briefings, has handled complex medical questions and created mixed messages that sow confusion about the true state of the coronavirus mitigation effort.