Trump still pushing to reopen the country even as virus testing slows

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Fewer than 150,000 coronavirus tests are conducted a day in a nation of more than 329 million people.

Donald Trump reiterated Tuesday that he wants to end social distancing and reopen the U.S. economy soon — possibly as early as May 1 — even as thousands of Americans continue to die each day from the coronavirus. But rather than ramp up testing to better track where the virus is spreading, the number of daily coronavirus tests conducted in the United States has actually gone down in recent days.

"Our country has to get open, and it will get open, and it'll get open safely and hopefully quickly — some areas quicker than other areas," he said during his daily briefing. "But there is tremendous testing and the governors will use whatever testing is necessary." He suggested that more than 20 states "are in extremely good shape" and could reopen "maybe even before the date of May 1."

"He desperately wants to reopen as much as possible on May 1," a former administration official told the Washington Post on Tuesday. "He's been that way from the beginning, and he has not wavered. He seems determined to do it. But there's a growing realization that you won't be able to open everything up by May 1."

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Trump's comments came the same day the nation's top infectious disease expert said May 1 was an "overly optimistic" target. "We have to have something in place that is efficient and that we can rely on," Dr. Anthony Fauci told the Associated Press," and we're not there yet."

Fauci and other experts say a robust testing system is vital before social distancing requirements can safely be eased. Without widespread testing, they warn, it will be impossible to know where new outbreaks are beginning. "I'll guarantee you, once you start pulling back there will be infections. It's how you deal with the infections that's going count," Fauci predicted.

But instead of testing more people, the nation is actually testing fewer. According to a Tuesday report by Politico, the number of daily tests analyzed by commercial labs dropped by more than 30% in the past week. The head of the American Clinical Laboratory Association told the outlet that "members have now eliminated testing backlogs, and have considerable capacity that is not being used." The Department of Health and Human Services also acknowledged a decline in the number of tests analyzed every day.

According to the COVID Tracking Project, a total of only about 3 million tests have been conducted in the United States to date — and that figure includes individuals such as Trump who have been tested more than once. The U.S. population is more than 329 million people; less than 1% of Americans have been tested even once.

On April 4, a total of 229,268 new tests were recorded, the highest number on one day in the country so far. Since Saturday, fewer than 150,000 new tests have been processed each day.

Trump promised on March 6 that "anybody that wants a test can get a test. That's what the bottom line is."

But that has not been true. Due to a lack of supplies, many Americans have been unable to get tested. And the administration said last week that it would wind down federal support for testing sites.

On Tuesday, Trump passed the buck to state governors, saying it was now on them to implement widespread testing. "The governors will be held accountable. If they need things, we'll help them get those things, but we want them to do their testing," he told reporters. "Because they're equipped to do testing. We've created incredible tests and we've done more testing than anybody has ever done in the world right now."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.