May 11, 2020 - Health

Trump contradicts health officials on who can get a coronavirus test

President Trump claimed at a press briefing Monday that any American who "wants" a coronavirus test can get one — contradicting his testing coordinator Adm. Brett Giroir, who just moments earlier said that tests are mostly reserved for people who "need" one because they present symptoms or are participating in contact tracing.

Why it matters: Trump used the briefing largely to celebrate the country's success in ramping up testing capacity, at one point boasting that "we have met the moment and we have prevailed" in regards to testing. But questions still remain about how Americans will be able to safely return to work if asymptomatic people don't have access to testing.

Between the lines: The White House, meanwhile, has proven to be a microcosm of what a country with high-quality testing, surveillance and isolation capability can look like.

  • Giroir explained that people who are in close contact with the president are tested regularly using the 15-minute Abbotts lab device, even if they're asymptomatic.
  • This is how the White House was able to diagnose Pence press secretary Katie Miller and isolate officials like Anthony Fauci who came into contact with her.

What they're saying: "Right now in America, anybody who needs a test gets a test in America, with the numbers we have," Giroir said. "If you're symptomatic with a respiratory illness, that is an indication for a test and you can get a test. If you need to be contact traced, you can get a test."

  • "And we hope — not hope — we are starting to have asymptomatic surveillance, which is very important. Again, that's over 3 million tests per week. That is sufficient for everyone who needs a test — symptomatic, contact tracing and, to our best projections, the asymptomatic surveillance we need."
  • "I think we have been clear all along that we believe and the data indicate we have enough testing to do the phase one gradual reopening that has been supported in the president's plan and the task force's plan. It has to be a phased reopening."

Earlier in the briefing, when asked when Americans can get tested every day like White House senior staff can, Trump responded: "Very soon."

  • He later said: "If people want to get tested, they get tested. We have the greatest capacity in the world, not even close. If people want to get tested they get tested, but for the most part, they shouldn't want to get tested."
  • "There is no reason. They feel good. They don't have sniffles. They don't have sore throats. They don't have any problem."

The bottom line: Trump and Giroir's statements blurred the line between two different concepts, as The Daily Beast's Sam Stein points out. People who "need" a test because they have symptoms or were in contact with an infected person can get one, but the number of tests "needed" to safely reopen the country is not yet sufficient.

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