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Former New York Times reporter Alex Berenson, who has become a lightning-rod figure during the coronavirus crisis for his detailed criticisms of state lockdown measures, told Fox News' Brit Hume in an interview Monday that he thinks officials' emphasis on expanded testing for the virus is an "excuse" to put off reopening the economy.
Berenson made the comments to Hume on an episode of the "Fox News Rundown Podcast," which comes out Wednesday.
Berenson, who was with the Times from 1999 to 2010 primarily covering the pharmaceutical industry, explained that he thinks the economic harms of keeping businesses closed -- as under current stay-at-home orders from many governors -- are worse than the health effects of lifting them even before comprehensive testing is available.
"I think the antibody testing matters," Berenson said of the tests that can tell people whether they've previously had the coronavirus and have some natural immunity to it. "I think the infectious testing is an excuse to delay this. I think putting this on widespread testing of live infection of people who are actually infected right now is meaningless."
He continued: "If people get sick, they can get tested. I mean, I'm not saying we shouldn't test people. But I'm saying that saying we need to be able to do a million tests a day before we can reopen is just an excuse not to reopen the country."
Hume pushed back on Berenson's answer, noting that public health experts have repeatedly said testing for the coronavirus is the most important thing to have up-and-running before reopening businesses, schools and public gathering places like bars.
Maryland Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, for example, announced with much fanfare Monday that he and his wife Yumi, who is a South Korean immigrant and fluent in Korean, had secured 500,000 coronavirus tests for the state from South Korea after intense negotiation and diplomacy.
"From the beginning of this coronavirus pandemic, one of the biggest problems in America has been the lack of availability of testing," Hogan said Monday. "It remains the most serious obstacle to safely reopening our states."
"What do you think is behind this?" Hume asked Berenson, noting top White House coronavirus task force doctors Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx are "serious, qualified, articulate, able" experts who are "on board with this" and not challenging the current strategy like he is.
Berenson cited other experts who have advocated a different view from Fauci and Birx.
"On the other side, most notably a Swedish epidemiologist who ... ran Sweden's public health department for a number of years and thinks the lockdowns are a huge mistake. He actually gave a very good interview a couple of days ago," Berenson said.
"I'm not a conspiracy theorist, OK?" Berenson said. "You know, I don't think this is like, this is all part of a plan to, you know, to make us green or bring Trump down. ... But here's what I think. When people take a public position that causes massive, massive, massive economic and societal disruption, it's going to be hard to get them to acknowledge that position was wrong. Or even that it can be changed right now in the light of new data."
Berenson also addressed a number of other topics in his discussion with Hume, including how his thinking on the coronavirus has evolved and when schools should open. He also questioned how some places are counting their coronavirus deaths, noting that most people who die because of the coronavirus are older.
"And so that raises the question of whether some people are dying with, rather than of, this," Berenson said.
"Some states have decided that you don't even have to have a positive test," he continued, later in the conversation. "That basically it looks like almost anybody who is aged and has any sort of flu-like or pneumonia-like symptoms and dies. You know, in the last month. It's gonna be coded as a COVID death without a positive test. And it's hard to know why. Why the states would do that except to try to get the death counts up."
Berenson in recent years has made his name by advocating against the legalization of marijuana, writing a book titled "Tell Your Children the Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness and Violence."
The full version of the conversation between Hume and Berenson comes out Wednesday on the "Fox News Rundown Podcast."