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Trump's 'common sense' on testing is neither common nor sensible

"If we didn't do any testing, we would have very few cases," Trump declared. Evidently, ignorance is the cure-all we've been waiting for.
Image: Outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Seattle
A physician administers a test for coronavirus at a mobile testing site run by Swedish Medical Center in Seattle on April 29, 2020.David Ryder / Reuters file

Last week, Donald Trump reflected briefly on coronavirus testing, and shared a rather extraordinary thought: "If we did very little testing, we wouldn't have the most cases. So, in a way, by doing all of this testing, we make ourselves look bad."

The absurdity of the president's assertion caused a bit of a stir, though he apparently didn't learn much from the fracas. Yesterday, Trump visited a medical supply distributor in Pennsylvania, where he elaborated on his concerns about virus testing, public perceptions, and public relations.

"[D]on't forget: We have more cases than anybody in the world. But why? Because we do more testing. When you test, you have a case. When you test, you find something is wrong with people. If we didn't do any testing, we would have very few cases. They don't want to write that. It's common sense."

Assessments like these are many things, but they are neither common nor sensible.

The president went on to say, "It could be that testing is, frankly, overrated. Maybe it is overrated." This is, of course, the opposite of everything we've learned from public-health experts since the crisis began.

If this were, say, February, and Trump were this confused about basic details, a generous observer might suggest that the president simply needed more time to get up to speed. But we've reached mid-May; the pandemic has claimed the lives of more than 86,000 Americans; and the leader of the free world is still saying things like, "If we didn't do any testing, we would have very few cases."

In reality, if we didn't do any testing, we'd have lots of cases, but we wouldn't know about them. By Trump's reasoning, we'd have few instances of breast cancer if only we stopped doing mammograms. We'd also wipe out glaucoma by ending eye exams. Ignorance is apparently the cure-all we've been waiting for.

I especially enjoyed seeing the president, in apparent reference to journalists, adding, "They don't want to write that." In other words, as far as Trump is concerned, rascally reporters -- with their annoying professional standards and preoccupation with facts -- refuse to tell the public that the circumstances surrounding the pandemic would look vastly better if only we collectively buried our heads in the sand.

The darned media.

Of course, if the president genuinely believes that virus testing is "overrated," and the whole endeavor is misguided, he could make dramatic changes in his own workplace. A Washington Post analysis noted this week, "There is at least one employer in the United States that is currently meeting a robust standard of testing aimed at preventing an outbreak: the White House."

Is Trump prepared to curtail these efforts? I have a hunch the answer is no.