President Trump said “I don’t kid” on Tuesday after reporters asked if he was speaking in jest when he floated the idea of slowing down coronavirus testing because it reveals more cases.
The comment added more confusion to a dayslong kerfuffle over Mr. Trump’s commitment to rooting out the virus, since his aides said the president was speaking “in jest” when he told a Tulsa rally that he asked the administration to slow down testing.
Mr. Trump said the U.S. has the “greatest testing” for the coronavirus in the world but repeated his belief it is a “double-edged sword” because it adds cases to the nationwide tally vis-a-vis other nations. The U.S. has conducted over 25 million tests and found 2.3 million infections.
“By having more tests we find more cases,” Mr. Trump told reporters as he headed to Arizona.
Testing for the virus is considered a key tool in combating the virus, since it allows states to pinpoint and isolate the infected and their contacts.
Mr. Trump acknowledged some of the benefits, noting the rate of U.S. deaths from coronavirus is declining.
“In one way, it tells you you have cases, in another way you find out where the cases are — you do a good job. We are doing a great job — we have never been credited for it,” he said.
Mr. Trump is increasingly pinning a spike in cases across the Sun Belt on increased testing.
“Cases are going up in the U.S. because we are testing far more than any other country, and ever expanding. With smaller testing we would show fewer cases!” Mr. Trump tweeted Tuesday.
Public health experts say the availability of testing doesn’t totally explain the sudden increase, pointing to an uptick in the rate of people coming back positive even as testing expands.
The positivity rate is roughly 20% in Arizona, suggesting rampant spread after the state reopened its economy.
Mr. Trump is heading to the swing state Tuesday to view a section of border wall and speak to conservative students in Phoenix.
Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, said Mr. Trump’s decision to rally with students in the state is “reckless and irresponsible.”
“Mr. President, this disease is rearing its head in Arizona again and families are hurting,” he said. “Arizonans deserve a president who will rise to the moment amid the challenges we face today.”