Trump takes issue with 'the whole concept' of virus testing

One of the key problems facing the nation is that the president doesn't seem to be improving -- even in areas he really ought to understand by now.
Image: Outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Seattle
Physician Aliea Herbert administers a test for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) to a patient at Interbay Village, a village of tiny houses managed by the Low Income Housing Institute, at a mobile testing site run by Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, Washington on April 29, 2020.David Ryder / Reuters
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By Steve Benen

A couple of months ago, Donald Trump visited the CDC offices in Atlanta, and when asked about the escalating coronavirus crisis, he assured everyone, "I like this stuff."

The president added, in apparent reference to epidemiology, "I really get it. People are surprised that I understand it. Every one of these doctors said, 'How do you know so much about this? ' Maybe I have a natural ability."

Two months later, Katie Miller, Vice President Mike Pence press secretary, tested positive for the coronavirus, offering Trump an opportunity to demonstrate his "natural abilities" related to epidemiology during a White House meeting with leading congressional Republicans.

"She's a wonderful young woman, Katie. She tested very good for a long period of time, and then all of a sudden, today she tested positive.... She tested positive out of the blue. This is why the whole concept of tests aren't necessarily great. The tests are perfect, but something can happen between a test -- where it's good, and then something happens, and all of a sudden -- she was tested very recently and tested negative. And then today, I guess, for some reason, she tested positive."

In other words, someone didn't have the coronavirus, which led to negative test results, and then that person contracted the coronavirus, at which point she tested positive. This, in Trump's mind is evidence of "the whole concept of tests" being unreliable.

So much for the president dazzling CDC scientists with his vast expertise.

To be sure, this was hardly the first time we've had an opportunity to marvel at Trump's inability to grasp basic details about an ongoing crisis. We are, after all, only a couple of weeks removed from the Republican standing behind the White House podium and talking publicly about researching the value of disinfectant injections in human beings.

But one of the key problems facing the nation is that the president doesn't seem to be improving -- even in areas he really ought to understand by now. It was on Wednesday when Trump declared, "[I]n a way, by doing all of this testing, we make ourselves look bad." Two days later, he took issue with "the whole concept of tests" because a prominent official on the vice president's team tested positive "for some reason."

The reason, of course, is that she appears to be among the more than 1.3 million Americans who've contracted the virus.

I don't understand what it is the president doesn't understand. Given the larger context, it's likely Trump wants to downplay the significance of testing because he realizes U.S. testing is so far behind the levels needed for an effective reopening initiative. But as is too often the case, the president seems to have it backwards: the fact that someone went from testing negative to positive doesn't discredit the value of testing; it serves as a reminder that frequent testing is important to keeping people safe.

Indeed, in this case, if Katie Miller hadn't been among those receiving routine testing, she would've remained at her post, interacting with top administration officials, including the vice president. But thanks to frequent testing, she was able to be identified and isolated -- which is the point of the process.

This isn't evidence against "the whole concept of tests"; it's the opposite.