President Trump did not order anyone to slow down coronavirus testing and his weekend comment about reducing unflattering case counts was delivered in “passing” and in “jest,” the White House said Monday.
“No, he has not directed that,” White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said. “Any suggestion that testing has been curtailed is not rooted in fact.”
The coronavirus has infected over 2 million people in the U.S. and killed over 120,000.
Mr. Trump raised eyebrows by telling a Tulsa rally crowd that “testing is a double-edged sword” in that it uncovers more infections, “so I said to my people, ‘Slow the testing down, please.’”
Aides told the Sunday talk shows he was joking.
Yet the president added fuel to the fire Monday by declining to answer, at least not directly, when a Scripps reporter asked him if he pumped the brakes on testing efforts.
“If it did slow down, frankly I think we’re way ahead of ourselves, if you want to know the truth,” Mr. Trump said in a taped interview at the White House.
“We’ve done too good a job, because every time we go up with 25 million tests you’re going to find more people, so then they say ‘Oh, we have more cases in the United States.’”
Ms. McEnany tried to clear the air moments later from the briefing podium, saying Mr. Trump never ordered a slowdown.
She said the president was not being glib about the virus, either, but rather the “media and its failure to understand” the correlation between the amount of testing and how many cases are uncovered.
Mr. Trump has complained about the link between policy decisions and cases in the past.
During a tour of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention headquarters in Atlanta, Mr. Trump suggested he wanted people aboard a cruise ship to stay docked off California instead of coming ashore and adding to the case count.
“I like the numbers being where they are. I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship,” he said March 6.
Also Monday, Ms. McEnany dismissed concerns the president’s use of the term “kung flu” for the coronavirus, which was discovered in Wuhan, China, could lead to more discrimination of Asian Americans.
“It is an indictment of China for letting the virus get here,” she said.
Pressed repeatedly on Mr. Trump’s use of the term, Ms. McEnany said: “The president does not believe it is offensive to note this virus came from China.”