Gathering the faithful in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Saturday night, President Trump opined that “testing is a double-edged sword,” explaining that “when you test to that extent, you will find more people; you will find more. cases. So I said to my people, ‘Slow down the test, please.’ “
The president, confessing to a deliberate effort to sabotage the Covid-19 evidence, would, of course, be a huge scandal, so his senior staff immediately began to explain that he was only joking. But Tuesday in an impromptu interview, Trump said, “I’m not kidding,” and in a tweet that morning he reiterated what appears to be his real point of view, which is whether or not he’s been sabotaging the evidence, he’s kind of wishing was because the entire growth of cases, in his opinion, is a test artifact.
Cases are increasing in the US USA Because we are testing much more than any other country and we are expanding. With smaller tests we would show fewer cases!
– Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 23, 2020
This is not exact. Not only has the gross count of positive tests started to increase again, but the proportion of positive tests has also started to increase. And in certain key states, hard numbers like hospitalizations are also on the rise. But Trump clings to this topic of conversation, and his ambivalent feelings about the tests are anything but a joke: They have been a hallmark of his catastrophic leadership failure since the early days of the crisis.
Trump has prioritized good numbers over good results
In the first days of the outbreak in the United States, Trump joked that he really didn’t want to see sick passengers aboard the Grand Princess cruise ship come ashore for treatment because “I like the numbers where they are.”
Like his most recent line, that was, on some level, a joke. And his administration bowed to medical expertise and brought American citizens on the ship to shore. But one person makes a joke over and over to express something real: In Trump’s case, he doesn’t like to make policy changes that generate statistics that reflect poorly on him.
In early March, when the United States’ evidentiary capacity was clearly inadequate, Trump spent a lot of time touting supposedly low case numbers instead of focusing on improving evidence to handle the situation. In fact, on the very day that he made the Grand Princess’ prank, he infamously insisted that “anyone who wants a test can take a test” when this was obviously untrue. The test failures thus far were more widespread and more complicated than simply that Trump did a poor job. But as the scope of the problem became clear, Trump showed no real desire to fix it, claiming that things were fine and demonstrating a clear preference for pink numbers over accurate numbers, which experts have warned is an approach. it could backfire.
While the evidence has improved since then due to grassroots demand, the insistence of Congress, and state policy action, it is still not where it should be, and the president continues to express ambivalence.
Trump handles testing as an excuse rather than a tool
Case levels in the United States are now back to where they were in late March.
However, it is misleading to say that the outbreak is as widespread today as it was in late March because test volumes have increased substantially. Back then, due to supply limitations in testing, we were clearly missing many cases. That’s a much less common problem today, so the official case count reflects a higher proportion of the true case count, and today’s true case count is consequently lower than where it was at the previous official peak. .
That’s the ray of truth in things like Trump’s May 15 joke that “if we didn’t do any testing, we’d have very few cases,” as well as his most recent comments.
There is, in other words, a true perverse element in disaster response policy. To be most effective, you need accurate information. But the media likes simple objective indicators like “this is the number of positive test results,” so you are, to some degree, punished for doing the right thing. But as a political leader, you’re supposed to do the right thing, not just make tongue-in-cheek remarks about life’s little ironies. Trump, who has essentially transferred the responsibility for the tests to the states, now only likes to exercise his observation on the test volumes as a “double-edged sword” as a way to reject bad news.
In reality, however, a look at the high and rising positivity rates in Texas, Florida and Arizona makes it clear that the Sunbelt outbreak that currently worries people is not an artifact of high evidence. And even as aggregate national testing numbers have improved, many states still lag behind, and according to his general abdication philosophy, Trump is doing nothing to accelerate additional testing capacity to places that need it.
All of this is because Trump seems to view the evidence as political football rather than as a useful tool to control the spread of the coronavirus. Basically, there are two ways to control an outbreak. One is to restrict activities so that silent spreaders don’t accidentally infect others. The other is to evaluate people, isolate the positive results, then trace their contacts and evaluate them all and isolate the positives or isolate them all until they are free of infection.
Trump does not like the idea of activity restrictions. He encouraged protests against governors trying to impose restrictions and is blocking the kind of aid to state and local governments that would make the restrictions sustainable. But we also have no real national testing strategy. They are not available in sufficient quantity when counted, the response time on most publicly available tests is too slow to be completely useful as screening tools, and there are no initiatives underway to routinely evaluate potential diffusers, randomly analyze population samples, or otherwise use them for non-diagnostic purposes.
This has left the country without much hope of achieving the kind of success that Korea or Germany have had in containing and reversing the outbreaks, leaving the US. USA Essentially just hoping for the best in terms of advances in treatment and vaccination. It is an extremely frightening situation, and there is nothing funny about it.
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