Trump has tried to circumvent his perception problem by pinning the responsibility for ramping up testing on the nation’s governors, who have complained for weeks about not being able to procure enough swabs, chemicals or supplies to run the actual tests. His latest tension came with Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, who Trump criticized even though the governor followed Trump’s instruction for states to get their own tests.
“We are moving very rapidly,” Trump said about the testing at Monday’s White House briefing. “And we’ll be doubling our number of daily tests if the governors bring their states fully online to the capability that they have. We have tremendous capability out there already existing.”
“We have testing coming in two weeks that will blow the industry away,” he said later in the Monday briefing.
Two-thirds of registered voters in a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll said Trump did not take the threat of the virus seriously enough at the beginning and almost half said he’s still not handling it well.
The administration’s response to the coronavirus now overshadows all of the Trump campaign’s carefully planned efforts to highlight Trump’s record on the economy, judicial appointments or deregulation.
Trump allies have tried to combat a narrative that the president was behind the curve by emphasizing Trump’s early steps to fight the virus. Administration officials have been amplifying defenses of Trump at every turn they can, most recently promoting a five-minute video by GOP Rep. Dan Crenshaw that the president also promoted on his Twitter feed on Sunday.
“The biggest political narrative that threatens them now is that they were slow to respond to the virus — and testing is a key component of the ‘slow start’ narrative, especially with the early testing fiascos,” said a second Republican close to the White House, who argued the administration needs to spend the next four to eight weeks getting the coronavirus under control and reopening the economy without incident before voters make up their mind about Trump’s leadership.
As the nation opens up, testing will be a crucial tool in spotting small outbreaks before they become big ones that could shut down portions of the country all over again.
Just over 4 million tests have been completed so far, for a population of roughly 330 million Americans, amid widespread reports of sick Americans being unable to get tested quickly — increasing the odds of spreading the virus. Estimates vary widely even among reputable public health experts about how many tests need to be done to keep the virus at bay. The White House‘s numbers are on the low end of that spectrum.
But administration officials are expressing confidence in public and private that the U.S. has enough tests for the short term and will have enough for the summer, since not every American needs to be tested.
The challenge could come in the fall, said a senior administration official and a third Republican close to the White House, when flu season returns and patients flood doctors’ offices with symptoms that could be Covid-19 or the flu. Doctors and labs will need tests then to make a distinction.