On Monday, Donald Trump announced a new federal blueprint on expanding virus testing capacity, but the plan was rather modest in its scope. It still relied heavily on state governments, and by some assessment, the administration's new approach would increase daily testing in the United States from about 220,000 to 260,000. That's better, but it's still not close to the kind of figures public-health experts are recommending.
It's against this backdrop that the president made some rather extraordinary claims at the White House yesterday. NBC News' Kristen Welker asked, "Some health experts say the U.S. needs 5 million tests per day by June in order to safely reopen. You unveiled a plan yesterday that will increase testing, but not by that much. Why not? And can you get to that benchmark?"
The president's answer meandered a bit and included all kinds of bizarre claims. Trump claimed that the United States is "the best in the world on testing," which is ridiculous. He twice said we've tested "more than every country combined," which is a lie. He even said his administration "inherited a very broken test," which is just odd given that he was referring to a test developed by his own team.
But the part of the answer that stood out for me was the part in which he actually tried to answer Kristen Welker's question:
"Well, it will increase it and it'll increase it by much more than that in the very near future."
Naturally, this led to a follow-up question: "Did I hear you saying you're confident you can surpass 5 million tests per day?" Trump added:
"Oh, well, we're going to be there very soon."
No, we're really not. The United States has conducted around 5 million tests since February; the idea that we'll very soon be up to 5 million tests per day is literally unbelievable.
It's tempting to think the president is simply unfamiliar with the numbers, just one day earlier, Trump boasted, "On Saturday alone, more than 200,000 test results were reported, which is a gigantic number." And yet, there he was yesterday, suggesting that "gigantic number" would be 25 times larger "very soon."
Admiral Brett Giroir, the assistant secretary of health who is in charge of the federal government's testing response, spoke to Time magazine yesterday and said that "there is absolutely no way on Earth, on this planet or any other planet, that we can do 20 million tests a day, or even 5 million tests a day."
He probably ought to let his boss know.
* Update: Trump now appears eager to walk back his rhetoric from yesterday, telling reporters today, "Somebody started throwing around 5 million.... I didn't say 5 million."
For the record, the official White House transcript clearly shows the president saying the United States will be to close to 5 million daily tests "very soon."