President Trump never ordered his coronavirus task force to slow down testing for the pathogen, key members told Congress on Tuesday.
“None of us have ever been told to slow down on testing. That just is a fact,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
“It’s the opposite, we’re going to be doing more testing, not less,” Dr. Fauci said.
One by one, the heads of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration and Brett Giroir, the country’s testing “czar,” told lawmakers they were not ordered by Mr. Trump to slow down diagnostic efforts.
“The only way that we will be able to understand who has the disease, who is infected and can pass it, to do appropriate contact tracing is to test appropriately, smartly and as many people as we can,” testified Adm. Giroir, an assistant health secretary and four-star admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service.
Mr. Trump’s own remarks sparked the unusual round of questioning. He told a Tulsa rally that testing is a double-edged sword because while it roots out cases, it also makes the country look bad as large numbers of infections are posted on global tracking sites.
He said he told his people to “slow the testing down, please.”
His aides said he was joking, though the president fanned the flames Tuesday by saying: “I don’t kid.”
The U.S. is home to about 330 million people. It has conducted over 25 million tests and discovered over 2.3 million infections. More than 120,000 people in the U.S. have died from the disease, known as COVID-19.
Dr. Fauci said America is looking at a “mixed bag” at this juncture in the pandemic.
“It’s a serious situation. In some respects we’ve done very well,” Dr. Fauci said, citing improvements in hard-hit New York City.
“In other areas of the country, we’ve now seeing a disturbing surge of infections,” he added, citing flare-ups in Florida, Texas and Arizona.
Mr. Trump headed to Arizona on Tuesday to view a section of the border wall and speak to conservative students in Phoenix.
Roughly 20% of those tested in Arizona are coming back positive, suggesting rampant spread after the state reopened its economy.
Dr. Fauci said states seeing a spike will need to devote manpower to testing and tracing cases, so they “can do something about them.”
Governors battered by new cases say many of the infections are hitting younger adults who are unlikely to die from the disease.
Rep. Diana DeGette, Colorado Democrat, asked whether people should link the declining death rate in the U.S. to that trend.
Dr. Fauci said it’s difficult to say, since deaths don’t show up in the data until weeks after cases are detected.
“I think it’s too early to make that kind of link,” Dr. Fauci said. “Deaths always lag considerably behind cases.”
He said the concern is people involved in the localized spikes will infect other people, who might get sick and die.
Committee Chairman Frank Pallone said American testing the virus stumbled out of the gate but appears to be improving. Still, he said the country is short of 900,000 daily tests experts say it needs.
“We are also hampered by the administration’s refusal to develop and implement a national testing and contact tracing strategy,” Mr. Pallone, New Jersey Democrat, said. “This cannot continue — we need federal public health experts to take more of a leadership role, and this administration is failing to allow that.”
Adm. Giroir said the U.S. should be able to conduct 40-50 million per month by fall.
He said test sites are required to report demographic data, to ensure equitable access, and that Morehouse School of Medicine has been awarded $40 million for a three-year project to deliver COVID-19 information to minority communities.
Prior to the testimony, Mr. Trump complained that he didn’t get the same amount of credit as his most famous task-force member.
“We did a great job on CoronaVirus, including the very early ban on China, Ventilator production, and Testing, which is by far the most, and best, in the World. We saved millions of U.S. lives.! Yet the Fake News refuses to acknowledge this in a positive way,” he wrote in a series of tweets on his way to Arizona.
“But they do give Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is with us in all ways, a very high 72% Approval Rating. So, if he is in charge along with V.P. etc., and with us doing all of these really good things, why doesn’t the Lamestream Media treat us as they should? Answer: Because they are Fake News!”