Despite reality, Trump insists virus testing 'has been going very smooth'

Around the same time as Fauci said we should "admit" the testing system isn't working, Trump said testing "has been going very smooth."
Image: Donald Trump
President Donald Trump speaks in the Oval Office on March 12, 2020.Evan Vucci / AP
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By Steve Benen

The Trump administration's response to the coronavirus outbreak has been controversial in a variety of areas, but testing has been an especially problematic area. Whereas South Korea, which first started finding viral infections around the same time as the United States, has been conducting between 10,000 and 15,000 tests a day, we haven't conducted that many tests in total.

Donald Trump's response over the last several days has been to tell a bizarre tale. He argued yesterday, for example, "[T]he testing has gone very well. And when people need a test, they can get a test." That was plainly untrue, but the president said it anyway.

Today, he did it again. "[F]rankly, the testing has been going very smooth," Trump boasted to reporters this afternoon. He added, "[W]e've done a good job on testing."

Around the same time, Americans heard from an authority who came to the opposite conclusion.

America has failed to meet the capacity for coronavirus testing that it needs, a top public health official publicly acknowledged Thursday. "The system is not really geared to what we need right now," Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in a House hearing about coronavirus test kits in the United States, which were initially dogged by technical glitches. "That is a failing. Let's admit it."

Evidently, the president is not among those inclined to "admit it."

If it seems as if Fauci's assertions are increasingly at odds with Trump's, in a public way, it's not your imagination. Yesterday, for example, the NIH director said at a congressional hearing that he wishes the president hadn't disbanded the White House's global health security unit.

Fauci added, "I mean, people always say, 'Well, the flu does this, the flu does that.' The flu has a mortality of 0.1 percent. This has a mortality rate of 10 times that. That's the reason I want to emphasize we have to stay ahead of the game in preventing this."

Comparing COVID-19 to the flu is, of course, one of Trump's favorite talking points.

What's more, the day after the president assured the public, "It will go away," and "It's really working out," Fauci declared, "The bottom line: It is going to get worse."

It's against this backdrop that Fauci added his "let's admit it" assertion today, which the White House very likely won't appreciate.