As the federal government continues to pressure states to reopen, experts warn that it’s unsafe to do so without drastically ramping up testing. Unfortunately, that isn’t currently happening, because of a lack of leadership from President Trump. Initially, the president was in a state of denial about the looming threat of the coronavirus, downplaying it at every turn even though he was warned about its gravity in his daily briefings in January. This continued into the month of February during which there were no decisive actions to address the pandemic.
On March 6, President Trump said that “anybody who wants a test, can get a test,” a claim which turned out to be untrue as promises of mobilizing resources did not materialize. By the end of the month, the U.S. was still behind on testing per capita. In early April, with little to show for his work, the president started shifting responsibility for testing to the states — likely in an attempt to avoid his administration being held responsible for the mismanagement of testing.
The Trump administration’s failure to address testing for the coronavirus pandemic with even a modicum of urgency has created a snowball effect of setbacks and logistical nightmares. There have been failures at every turn — and no responsibility taken — from supply chain logistics, to distribution delays in getting states equipment, to rate of testing on a per capita basis, to faulty antibody tests and test kits, to lack of technicians to conduct tests. As things currently stand, it would be reckless and irresponsible to push for things to return to normal prematurely.
Here are the facts:
- The US trails behind other countries on testing – Millions more tests need to be conducted every day if we want to even consider reopening economies. Countries like Germany, on the other hand, are testing at a greater scale and conducting nationwide antibody testing.
- Testing sites are expanding too slowly – In mid-March, the Trump administration announced plans to launch more coronavirus testing sites with the help of major retailers but they didn’t take off. On April 27, he re-announced a similar plan.
- Multiple states have a backlog – States like Florida, California, and New Jersey have experienced backlogs in recent weeks that in some cases are getting worse, not better.
- There have been huge logistical failures and a serious lack of supplies – The medical community has pushed back on the Trump administration’s claim that COVID-19 equipment is being underutilized. Instead, they’ve pointed to a lack of supply chain management as one of the primary reasons for limited testing capacity.
- Labs don’t have enough technicians – Companies are scrambling to hire technicians to keep up with demand and some labs have been running at less than 10% of their capacity.
- There’s still a limited availability of tests – On April 6, the Health and Human Services Department inspector general released a report citing testing test kit shortages as one of the key issues impeding a proper response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
PRESIDENT TRUMP FAILED TO ACT IN THE FACE OF WARNINGS
As early as January, President Trump was warned at least a dozen times about the coronavirus threat in his daily briefings. Still, he didn’t act. This delay in taking swift and decisive action has created a domino effect that has cost lives. As of Tuesday, April 28, coronavirus has taken the lives of more than 55,000 people in the United States.
As the administration downplayed risks of the spread of the virus and President Trump held political rallies and attended Mar-a-Lago birthday parties, the coronavirus silently spread across the United States. Global organizations began creating and distributing testing kits while President Trump tweeted he appreciated China’s “efforts and transparency” around the coronavirus and instead of prioritizing testing, his administration made a show of issuing travel restrictions and continued to allow tens of thousands of international travelers into the US without adequate testing while imposing overly narrow limitations around those considered test-eligible.
China reported the first death from the new strain of coronavirus.
HHS Secretary Alex Azar first spoke with President Trump about the virus — the president reportedly co-opted the conversation to request that flavored vaping products be put back on the market.
First case announced in the United States for a man in his 30s in Washington State who had returned the week before from a trip to Wuhan.
In a CNBC interview, Trump claimed, “ And — we’re — we have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s—going to be just fine.”
Ten days after the WHO had already released its guidelines for diagnostic detection of the coronavirus, the US published its own version of technical details for COVID-19 testing. HHS Secretary Alex Azar delivered the first public remarks from the administration and told reporters, coronavirus “should not be an impact on [Americans’] day-to-day life.”
Between campaign rallies in New Jersey and Iowa, Trump received a memo from a White House advisor warning the administration of the potential human and economic costs the country would be facing. At this point, there was still free travel in and out of the United States from China, which wouldn’t be restricted for another four days.
Just before his campaign rally in Iowa, Trump tweeted, “We think we have it very well under control. We have very little problem in this country at this moment — five — and those people are all recuperating successfully. But we’re working very closely with China and other countries, and we think it’s going to have a very good ending for us … that I can assure you.”
While other countries were quickly ramping up testing capacities and taking aggressive action, including in places like South Korea where the government prepared to administer up to 10,000 tests a day, the United States released a flawed testing kit that took weeks to correct and refused to expand testing guidelines or to allow the help of outside laboratories. Medical experts meanwhile pleaded with the administration to expand testing and the administration slow-walked approval of testing kits produced in the private sector. Since the beginning of the outbreak in the United States to the end of February, the administration oversaw fewer than 2,000 tests — nationwide.
Two former top public health officials who served in the Trump administration urged Trump to loosen restrictions, expand testing, and allow private industry to develop a coronavirus test, a step it will not take until late February, losing a critical month of preparedness.
The CDC shipped its first limited supply of test kits to labs around the country, but within days the CDC began receiving reports that the tests were flawed and did not produce reliable results.
After visiting the Atlanta CDC lab, government officials then took days to determine contamination was happening in the manufacturing of testing kits.
The Association of Public Health Laboratories pleaded with the Trump administration in a letter to allow state labs to develop their own tests as valuable time passed. It took the government several days before allowing state labs to develop their own tests.
Trump tweeted, “Congratulations and thank you to our great Vice President & all of the many professionals doing such a fine job at CDC & all other agencies on the Coronavirus situation. Only a very small number in U.S., & China numbers look to be going down. All countries working well together!”
First COVID-19 death in the United States for a Kirkland, WA man in his 50s. There was no evidence the man had traveled recently or been in contact with another COVID-19 affected person.
In promise after promise, the administration fell short. It promised millions of tests while in reality only thousands of tests were conducted. Meanwhile the United States officially became the center of the global pandemic by claiming the highest number of infections, just two weeks after the virus was declared a global pandemic. Even within the administration, experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci called testing in the United States “a failing.” Instead, Trump and his administration claimed to partner with business interests to build drive-through testing centers but even those promises didn’t come to fruition. By the end of March, roughly one out of every 302 Americans (or 0.3%) had been tested by the end of March in the United States whereas countries like Germany were able to test one in every 90 people and South Korea tested one in every 119.
Vice President Pence promised that “roughly 1.5 million tests” would be available that week, when in fact the U.S. was only able to test 1,895 Americans by week’s end.
Trump said at a tour of the Atlanta CDC headquarters, “anyone who wants a test can get a test. They’re there. They have the tests and the tests are beautiful.” Independent factcheckers called the claim false and Trump’s HHS secretary Alex Azar was forced to clarify that “you may not get a test unless a doctor or public health official prescribes a test.”
Trump promised 4 million test kits will be available by the end of the following week. A total of 25,000 tests were conducted during the following seven days.
The WHO declared coronavirus a global pandemic.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, admits at a congressional hearing about the administration’s testing efforts: “That is a failing. Let’s admit that.”
At a news conference standing beside chief executives of Target, Walgreens, Walmart and CVS, Trump declared, “I don’t take responsibility at all” for the administration’s botched testing process and promised partnerships with the private sector to set up drive-through testing across the country. He claimed, “We’ll be announcing locations probably on Sunday night. … 1.4 million tests on board next week and 5 million within a month. I doubt we’ll need anywhere near that. … We’ll have the ability to do in the millions over a very, very quick period of time.” In one month’s time, just eight such testing centers were created and fewer than 3 million tests had been conducted in the United States.
South Korea with a population of 51 million had tested more than 248,000 people while the U.S. with a population of 329 million had tested just over 31,000.
The United States officially became the country with the most COVID-19 infections.
On a call with governors, Trump said “I haven’t heard about testing in weeks, […] We’ve tested more now than any nation in the world. We’ve got these great tests and we’re coming out with a faster one this week […] I haven’t heard about testing being a problem.”
Led by guidance from the administration, state governments started announcing plans to reopen while public health experts and medical professionals warned that testing was severely lacking and needed a “breakthrough.” Rather than redoubling its efforts, the administration began telling states that testing was up to them. By the end of April, less than two percent of Americans had been tested and there were well over 50,000 deaths caused by the coronavirus in the United States.
Cases throughout the world surpassed 1 million.
An internal government watchdog report found that, in the wake of Trump’s failures, hospitals across the country were facing a dire shortage of vital medical equipment, including testing equipment. The report noted that the equipment the federal government provided hospitals was sometimes not usable or of low quality.
After Trump touted the diagnostic testing created by Abbott Labs in a Rose Garden press briefing and HHS announced it would be purchasing the tests for distribution, the tests were later found to pose safety concerns for lab workers.
After announcing it would end federal support (testing materials, protective equipment, lab contracts) for community-based drive-through coronavirus testing sites, HHS reversed course following nationwide criticism and instead said local authorities could continue with federal help should they choose.
FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn acknowledges that the US was still falling short on testing and said, “We need to do more. No question about that.”
The Trump administration announced a series of guidelines for allowing states to reopen, including the ease of social distancing and stay-at-home orders while US deaths spiked to a record 4,591 in one day and testing plateaued.
Weeks after alarms were raised about the shortage of cotton testing swabs, the Trump administration announced the government would utilize the Defense Production Act to compel the manufacture of 20 million coronavirus testing swabs every month. However, Trump has not used the DPA to ramp up production of another critical supply in short supply: reagents.
Dr. Deborah Birx told Meet the Press: “we have to realize that we have to have a breakthrough innovation in testing. […] We have to be able to detect antigen, rather than constantly trying to detect the actual live virus, or the viral particles itself.”
In a new release of documents, the Trump administration said the federal government would be a supplier of tests “of last resort,” noting, “Testing plans and rapid response programs will be federally supported, state managed, and locally executed.”
Capitol physician warned returning U.S. Senators that there was not adequate testing capacity to ensure their safety as the chamber went back into session
As the coronavirus continued to ravage the country and deaths topped 75,000, the U.S. was averaging around 280,000 tests per day — not even half of the daily number necessary in order to start safely reopening the country. As the administration encouraged the lifting of restrictions, experts raised estimates for the necessary number of tests per day that would be required to get the coronavirus under control. Meanwhile, the Trump administration brazenly continued to claim that anyone who wanted a test could get one. Even within government, officials protested the U.S.’s test shortage and warned of the dangers without an adequate testing system in place.
Due to a shortage of tests, Congress declined the Trump administration’s offer of 1,000 rapid tests for the Senate’s return to Washington.
A Harvard Institute study found testing needed to be at 900,000 people per day in the U.S. by May 15 in order to get ahead of the pandemic — an increase from previous estimates due to “a growing consensus among experts that the US is faring worse in this outbreak than previously thought.” On May 7, just 318,720 tests were conducted.
Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who would later quarantine after a staffer tested positive, told Meet the Press, “It’s enough to do what we need to do today to reopen but it’s not enough, for example, when 35,000 kids and faculty show up on the University of Tennessee campus in August.”
While a rash of staffers at the White House began testing positive for COVID, the administration demanded employees wear masks at work. And, at a Rose Garden press conference, Trump, maskless, said, “If people want to get tested, they get tested. But for the most part they shouldn’t want to get tested. There’s no reason. They feel good, they don’t have sniffles, they don’t have sore throats they don’t have any problem.” Assistant Secretary for Health Admiral Brett Giroir had to correct Trump, instead saying anyone who “needs” a test may get one.
After being hailed by President Trump and used in the White House to test staff and visitors, a study casting doubt on the effectiveness of the Abbott ID Now COVID-19 rapid test — arguing it could be missing a third to nearly half of positive cases — helped lead the FDA to issue a warning that the test may return false negatives.
First reported in The Atlantic, the CDC has been combining the results of antibody tests together with the results of diagnostic tests in reporting their numbers of those who’ve been tested in in total in the United States. Experts said this practice “clouds important information about the U.S. response to the pandemic.”
In June, at the encouragement of the administration, some states began reopening and President Trump picked up his campaign rallies again, followed by a spike in cases in parts of the U.S. Still without an adequate and unified national testing strategy, the country remained especially vulnerable to a continuation of the pandemic, potentially preceding an even more lethal second spike in the fall. This month, President Trump even began bizarrely claiming that if there were fewer tests, there would be fewer cases in the U.S. — a ludicrous and highly dangerous proposition. About 3.5 million new tests were being conducted each week in the U.S. with a positivity rate of just under five percent.
Weeks after the White House has largely curtailed meetings of the Coronavirus Task Force, the administration announced it was reassigning its top official from his work leading the ramp up of testing capacity to his previous duties at HHS.
President Trump traveled to the Maine swab factory producing testing product under the Defense Production Act and did not wear a mask. All swabs produced during his visit were then thrown away.
President Trump said, “when you do more testing, you have more cases. We have more cases than anybody because we do more testing than anybody. It’s pretty simple […] I say to my people: Every time we test, you find cases because we do more testing. So if we have more cases — if we wanted to do testing in China or in India or other places, I promise you, there’d be more cases.”
In a call with governors, Vice President Pence urged the states to emphasize that it was the supposed increase in testing to be blamed for the rise in COVID-19 cases across the country and not an actual spike in the infection rate: “I would just encourage you all, as we talk about these things, to make sure and continue to explain to your citizens the magnitude of increase in testing […] And that in most of the cases where we are seeing some marginal rise in number, that’s more a result of the extraordinary work you’re doing.”
At a campaign rally, President Trump told the audience, “When you do testing to that extent, you’re going to find more people, you’re going to find more cases. So I said to my people, slow the testing down, please.”
EXPERTS SOUND THE
ALARM ON TESTING
A recent Harvard study concluded that we need 5 million tests per day to consider reopening the country safely. Currently, many states are far short of the testing levels needed to consider this decision. And while the president stated that his administration was doing “a great job” on testing, experts — including Dr. Deborah Birx and Dr. Anthony Fauci — have been stating the contrary for weeks:
“So, there’s a long time lag between when people are becoming infected and when we’re starting to see an uptick in deaths. And I think that really highlights the important problem here of lack of test capacity. This has a been a problem from the beginning and it continues to be patchy.”
Caroline Buckee, Harvard Associate Professor of Epidemiology (April 22, 2020)
“So, this is a wonderful test, don’t get me wrong, but it’s one test for 15 minutes. That’s wonderful, but it’s not the same volume that you need.”
Dr. Rishi Desai, Former CDC Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer, On Abbott Labs Test (April 1, 2020)
“Testing capacity is not currently adequate and we need more. We need this as soon as we can have it.”
Lisa Maragakis, Senior Director Of Infection Prevention At Johns Hopkins Medicine (March 6, 2020)
“If we had all the resources in the world and could wave a magic wand, we would be happy to test these people, but they’re not there, so I’m afraid we’re having to prioritize.”
Dr. William Schaffner, A Professor In The Division Of Infectious Diseases At Vanderbilt Medical Center (March 22, 2020)
AS TRUMP HAS DELAYED RAMPING UP TESTING, AMERICANS HAVE SUFFERED
The Trump administration missed a critical window to prepare for the coronavirus crisis during which it could have ramped up testing for Americans. In early March, the U.S. was still far behind on testing on a per capita basis and has only managed to catch up to other countries in the last 10 days. Throughout this time, even those who should have qualified for a test were denied — some people begged for a test multiple times.
- March 6, 2020: A 58-year-old California resident who had “come down with coughing fits and a sore throat” was told she “did not need to get tested” because “at this point, testing is very limited.”
- March 2, 2020: CBS: “A woman who recently returned home from Italy says she was told by doctors at Jackson Memorial Hospital that she ‘likely’ has COVID-19, but that they are unable to verify the claim because state and federal officials refused to conduct the necessary tests to confirm it.”
- March 12, 2020: A Massachusetts woman’s doctor told her “they do think it is possible that I have the virus” but was later told, “she did not meet the criteria since she had not traveled abroad or had any contact with a person who had tested positive.”
- March 17, 2020: A New Jersey doctor who had traveled to Italy in early March and developed shortness of breath and fever was unable to obtain a diagnostic test for COVID-19.
- April 2020: After a nurse died at New York’s Mt. Sinai West, nurses and other staff members in his unit and across Mount Sinai West were not able to access testing at their own hospital.
- April 7, 2020: A 56-year-old Detroit man died after begging for a test on multiple occasions and being repeatedly turned away.
- April 8, 2020: “In New York City, an intensive care nurse treated patients for three days after she started displaying symptoms of COVID-19 — but couldn’t get a test from her hospital.”
- April 8, 2020: A Georgia nurse was denied a test after treating an infected patient who died.
- April 9, 2020: A Chattanooga man had a referral from a doctor for COVID-19 testing, and was denied by the county health department. He then wound up in the emergency room, where he was also denied a test.
- April 11, 2020: A Santa Rosa, California detective died after being denied a test twice. She was told her age and lack of underlying health issues did not leave her vulnerable to the virus.
- April 13, 2020: After being denied five times for a COVID-19 test, a Corpus Christi woman finally got tested April 7 and got a positive diagnosis on April 13.
- April 17, 2020: A 63-year-old Detroit healthcare worker died after being denied a test 4 times at her own hospital.
- April 2020: A Kentucky man died after being refused a test. The man went to a testing site but was screened out.
- April 27, 2020: A 30-year-old Brooklyn teacher died from COVID complications, she was denied testing on two different occasions.
President Trump and his administration did little to prepare for this pandemic, starting many months ago even after many warnings. Testing remains scarce and states are not ready to reopen safely. The American people deserve safe conditions before returning to work and the regular pace of life — the Trump administration has a lot of work to do to get the country there and that starts with taking necessary steps to bring our testing capabilities to where they need to be.
Accountable.US, a nonpartisan government watchdog, is begging the Trump administration to answer a simple question: WHERE ARE THE TESTS?