As President Donald Trump pushes to reopen the country amid the ongoing coronavirus crisis, he and members of his White House have access to something the vast majority of ordinary citizens do not: readily available tests that take just minutes to complete.
The discrepancy in testing became even more pronounced last week when several staffers close to the president and vice president tested positive for COVID-19. The news rattled the White House and threatened to undermine the Trump administration’s narrative that it’s safe to open up the country and return to work.
“People close to the president are getting tested every day,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said on Tuesday. “No wonder the president thinks testing is widely available. It’s not.”
During a press conference at the White House on Monday, Trump said the nation has “met the moment and we have prevailed” when it comes to coronavirus testing. He argued that broad coronavirus restrictions pose a risk, too ― in the form of permanent economic damage and additional suicide deaths.
However, America is well below a number of nations in testing per capita, including Denmark, Italy, New Zealand, Germany and Canada. The U.S. also has the highest death toll from the infection, passing 80,000 on Monday.
Even Adm. Brett Giroir, Trump’s coronavirus testing czar, declined to echo the president’s rhetoric about testing being widely available to any person who wants it. At Monday’s press conference with Trump at the White House, Giroir clarified that anyone who needs a test ― like people with respiratory symptoms ― can get one.
Democrats, meanwhile, argued that the country needs far more readily available tests before much of the public can go back to work. They point to deadly coronavirus outbreaks at meat processing plants in several states as an example of the need for further caution ― as well as evidence of a double standard at the White House.
“Donald Trump is paying attention to testing and to masks because they understand that can help prevent this coronavirus, [but] for the rest of America, just go out there and boost the economy,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), adding that Republicans are “just not prioritizing the lives and safety of the American people.”
But Republicans dismissed the idea of a double standard on testing, arguing that Trump and the White House need special protection.
“We afford the president Secret Service protection unlike any other person because it’s important to do that. Do I expect more rigorous testing to protect the president of the U.S.? Yeah, that makes sense,” Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said.
Even Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), a Trump critic who said on Tuesday that the U.S. record on testing is “nothing to celebrate whatsoever,” agreed.
“I think people do expect that the president of the United States deserves very special care and treatment,” Romney told HuffPost.
Democrats’ argument on reopening the country, meanwhile, was bolstered by testimony Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading expert on infectious diseases, gave to the Senate Health Committee on Tuesday.
Fauci strongly cautioned against failing to take seriously the guidelines put out by the White House coronavirus task force, which stipulate that states should see a 14-day decline in new cases before loosening restrictions.
If leaders reopen local economies too quickly, Fauci said, “the consequences could be really serious.”
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