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President Trump on Monday touted the success of the United States’ testing for the coronavirus, saying that in May alone each U.S. state will have tested more people for the contagion than South Korea has done throughout the entire pandemic.
Speaking from the White House Rose Garden and next to a large banner reading “America leads the world in testing,” Trump made his first formal press briefing in two weeks. During his time at the podium, the president praised the manufacturing effort to make the tests – as well as N95 masks, ventilators and other personal protective equipment – and said that he would be sending money to state and tribal leaders as an “investment to conduct more tests than any other country on earth.”
Senior administration officials said earlier on Monday that the federal government will begin distributing $11 billion from the latest relief bill to boost state testing efforts. The funds will be allocated based on states’ population size and how heavily they have been impacted by the outbreak.
For weeks the White House has resisted calls to set specific testing goals or metrics. And Trump has reiterated that governors are responsible for testing.
But administration officials said the federal government will now provide states with enough supplies to meet their testing goals. At a minimum, the White House wants all states testing at least 2 percent of their populations, though the administration has declined to elaborate on how that number was reached.
The U.S. is still struggling to increase testing to the levels that most public health experts say are essential to safely reopen offices, schools, churches, restaurants and other parts of the economy.
Last week, Harvard researchers projected that the nation must conduct 900,000 daily tests by May 15 to be able to track new cases and contain new flare ups. That’s more than three times the country’s current daily testing rate of about 275,000.
Trump on Monday also commented that his administration would focus on streamlining testing for “communities in need” and comes just hours after the White House announced recommendations that all nursing home residents and staff be tested for the new coronavirus in the next two weeks.
Vice President Mike Pence, who leads the White House coronavirus task force, told governors on a video conference call Monday that it’s the federal government’s strong recommendation that such testing be done.
Dr. Deborah Birx, the task force coordinator, told governors to focus over the next two weeks on testing all 1 million nursing home residents. She says the White House will help states that need it.
Nursing homes and the elderly have been shown to be especially susceptible to the virus.
During his press briefing, Trump also plugged his good relationship with the country’s governors during the pandemic.
“The partnership has truly flourished,” Trump said. “We have truly had a really great relationship with the states.”
He added: “Most states are now doing a great job.”
The president’s tone was markedly different from the one he struck on Twitter earlier in the day, when accused Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and other Democratic governors of delaying the reopening of their states’ economies for "political purposes" and of “moving slowly” in loosening restrictions and reopening businesses shuttered by the coronavirus pandemic.
“The great people of Pennsylvania want their freedom now, and they are fully aware of what that entails. The Democrats are moving slowly, all over the USA, for political purposes. They would wait until November 3rd if it were up to them. Don’t play politics. Be safe, move quickly!” the president tweeted.
Decisions about how fast to reopen are being made with the general election less than six months away, and Trump and other incumbents facing it in the midst of a public health and economic crisis.
“If we do this carefully, working with the governors, I don’t think there’s a considerable risk,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on “Fox News Sunday.” “Matter of fact, I think there’s a considerable risk of not reopening. You’re talking about what would be permanent economic damage to the American public.”
Mnuchin was one of several economic advisers the White House dispatched on Sunday to place the focus on the merits of loosening restrictions on the economy. Yet attention to possible risks of infection also turned to how the virus even found its way into the White House.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.