Trump coronavirus Donald Trump
Graphic via Tania Lili for Courier

“If we stop testing right now, we’d have very few cases, if any,” Trump said at the White House on Monday. 

President Trump on Monday minimized concerns over the surge in coronavirus cases across the country, arguing the uptick was due to increased testing and not to the reopening of states and lifting of stay-at-home orders.

“If we stop testing right now, we’d have very few cases, if any,” Trump said at the White House on Monday. 

Trump’s statement is factually accurate, but it doesn’t mean the virus would simply go away. People would still contract and spread COVID-19, but without testing, states and cities would have much less information to work with and would struggle to isolate cases and contain outbreaks from spreading.

Trump’s statement came as he tried to justify why the number of cases is rising in 20 states and Puerto Rico. The United States now has more than 2.1 million confirmed cases—more than 25% of the global total, despite the U.S. making up just 4% of the world’s population.

According to the president, that’s entirely due to the nation’s testing capacity, and not because many of those same states rushed to reopen in mid-May. Trump reiterated his argument in a Monday tweet in which he called testing a “double edged sword” that “makes us look bad.”

Vice President Mike Pence also embraced Trump’s misleading explanation during a phone call with governors on Monday, in which he tried to convince them to adopt the administration’s rationale for the worsening outbreaks. 

“I would just encourage you all, as we talk about these things, to make sure and continue to explain to your citizens the magnitude of increase in testing,” Pence said on the call, according to audio obtained by The New York Times. “And that in most of the cases where we are seeing some marginal rise in number, that’s more a result of the extraordinary work you’re doing.”

But public health experts disagree. They say that while the increase in testing is partially responsible for rising numbers in some states, there’s more to the picture. Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, told ABC News on Friday that it was important to look both at case numbers and the percentage of positive tests to understand whether the increasing number of cases represented worsening outbreaks. 

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“If you test more, you will likely pick up more infections,” Dr. Fauci said, also adding: “Once you see that the percentage is higher, then you’ve really got to be careful, because then you really are seeing additional infections that you weren’t seeing before.”

The percentage of positive tests is rising dramatically in many states, such as Arizona and Texas, which indicates a worsening outbreak. In Arizona, the state recorded 7,121 new cases from May 31 to June 6, a 54% increase over the previous week. More alarmingly, the percentage of positive tests has increased from 5% in late April to 13% the week ending June 6. 

In another sign that these outbreaks are getting worse, hospitalizations in both states have also risen. In Texas, a record high 2,518 COVID-19 patients are currently hospitalized, a 67% increase since Memorial Day. In Arizona, more than 1,400 confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients were hospitalized on Friday, up from 755 a month earlier and higher than at any other point since the crisis began. 

Public health experts in both states said the worsening outbreaks were directly tied to the end of stay-at-home orders in those states. “Perhaps Arizona will be a warning sign to other areas,” Katherine Ellingson, an epidemiologist at the University of Arizona, told NPR. “We never had that consistent downward trend that would signal it’s time to reopen and we have everything in place to do it safely.”

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Pence sought to downplay the new outbreaks as “intermittent” spikes and asked governors to “encourage people” that the government is reopening the country safely. 

Trump and Pence’s comments represent the White House’s newfound posture on the virus: It’s here, people have to deal with it, and the federal government won’t support more lockdowns or restrictions.

White House National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow made this explicitly clear in a Monday interview with Fox News. “We are not intending to close down the economy,” Kudlow told America’s Newsroom. “We do not believe this is a second wave.”

“We do not believe this is a second wave.”

His comments came as the stock market plunged on Monday amid news of worsening outbreaks. Kudlow acknowledged that some states were experiencing “bumps” in cases, but said he viewed the rising caseload as “controllable.”

“I do not want to downplay or argue against the fact that it’s happening, but I think it’s something we have to get used to,” he said.