White House trade adviser Peter Navarro said on CNN's "State of the Union" Sunday that President Trump's claim at his rally that he asked officials to slow down coronavirus testing was "tongue-in-cheek," calling it a "light moment."

Why it matters: Trump said as recently as last week that coronavirus testing is "overrated," arguing that it makes the U.S. "look bad" because it leads to a higher number of confirmed cases.

  • However, the significant spike in cases that's been recorded in recent weeks in states like Arizona, South Carolina, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Florida isn't solely attributable to more testing.
  • Joe Biden immediately pounced on Trump's comments, releasing a statement that called them "outrageous" and "appalling." "Speed up the testing," Biden tweeted.

The exchange:

NAVARRO: "Come on now, Jake, you know it was tongue-in-cheek. That was tongue-in-cheek, please."
JAKE TAPPER: "I don't know that it was tongue-in-cheek at all. He has said similar things for months."
NAVARRO: "We've got over 30 million people unemployed and we've seen over 100,000 people die because of the China, Wuhan virus. Let's talk about some serious issues, Jake. I don't want to go there."
TAPPER: "I think that testing is a very serious issue. I'm not the one making jokes about it. You're the one that said the president was being tongue-in-cheek."
NAVARRO: "Come on, it was a light moment."

The big picture: Navarro said that "of course" the administration is preparing for a potential second wave of the coronavirus in the fall, arguing, "You prepare for what can possibly happen — I'm not saying it's going to happen, but of course you prepare."

  • Navarro also claimed, without evidence, that China "created this pandemic," refusing to rule out the claim that the coronavirus was purposely manufactured in a lab. The U.S. intelligence community has said there’s enough evidence to conclude that the virus evolved naturally.
  • Navarro later clarified that he meant that the virus was "spawned" in China, and he called the Chinese Communist Party "guilty until proven innocent."

Go deeper: U.S. reports highest number of new coronavirus cases since May 1

Go deeper

Updated Sep 18, 2020 - Health

World coronavirus updates

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Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Axios Visuals

Though health workers represent less than 3% of the population in many countries, they account for around 14% of the coronavirus cases reported to the World Health Organization, WHO announced Thursday.

Why it matters: The WHO called on governments and health care leaders to address threats facing the health and safety of these workers, adding that the pandemic has highlighted how protecting them is needed to ensure a functioning health care system.

Former Pence aide says she plans to vote for Joe Biden

President Trump in the Oval Office on Sept. 17. Photo: Oliver Contreras-Pool/Getty Images

Vice President Pence's former lead staffer on the White House coronavirus pandemic response announced on Thursday that she plans to vote for Joe Biden in the 2020 election, accusing President Trump of taking actions "detrimental to keeping Americans safe."

What she's saying: "It was shocking to see the president saying that the virus was a hoax, saying that everything's okay when we know that it not. The truth is that he doesn't actually care about anyone else but himself," said Olivia Troye, Pence's former homeland security, counterterrorism and coronavirus adviser.

Coronavirus cases increase in 17 states

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Data: The COVID Tracking Project, state health departments; Map: Andrew Witherspoon, Sara Wise/Axios

Coronavirus infections ticked up slightly over the past week, thanks to scattered outbreaks in every region of the country.

Where it stands: The U.S. has been making halting, uneven progress against the virus since August. Overall, we're moving in the right direction, but we're often taking two steps forward and one step back.