WASHINGTON – Amid a considerable spike in confirmed coronavirus cases in the US, the country’s four most important public health experts contradicted President Donald Trump on Tuesday, telling congressional lawmakers that more testing – not less, as the president had suggested on the weekend – needs to be done to properly and effectively combat the disease.
The four officials, including the main US epidemiologist, Dr. Anthony Fauci, testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee and answered questions about Trump, who on Saturday at a political rally in Tulsa announced that he had asked for health care authorities to do less testing.
“In fact, we will be doing more testing,” responded Fauci, the director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Fauci and the other three officials denied that they had ever been pressured by the White House to reduce testing.
“None of us have ever been told to slow down on testing,” Fauci declared.
Meanwhile, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Robert Redfield, said that his aim is to increase immediate and early access to testing, while Assistant Secretary of Health Brett Giroir said that the only way to understand the disease is to test as many people as possible.
Food and Drug Commission chief Stephen M. Hahn also denied receiving any pressure from Trump, whose Saturday comments dumbfounded and sparked heated criticism in different circles at a time when the number of US virus cases is rising and the death toll exceeds 120,000.
The White House had attempted to downplay Trump’s statement and on Monday press secretary Kayleigh McEnany had suggested that the president was merely joking when he made that remark.
However, when asked on Tuesday by reporters if he was joking, Trump said that “I don’t kid” and insisted that the US is leading the world in the number of confirmed virus cases because this country is doing more testing and thus detecting more cases.
Stressing that the US has the “best” capacity to test its people of any country in the world, Trump – at his Tulsa rally – went on to say: “Here’s the bad part: when you do testing to that extent, you’re going to find more people, you’re going to find more cases. So I said to my people, ‘Slow the testing down please.’”
In reality, other nations like Germany and South Korea have performed more tests per capita than the US, where some 327 million people live and where 27 million have undergone a test to detect the virus. Some 10 percent of those tests have come back positive, according to CDC figures.
The president and the medical experts on Tuesday gave clear evidence of their differences regarding the spike in COVID-19 cases.
On Twitter, Trump praised himself for his handling of the pandemic so far, saying that he had done a “great job” dealing with the health emergency and that the virus was under control, while Fauci said that the country is experiencing a “disturbing surge” of new infections in states that are reopening too quickly and that lack the capacity to adequately test the public.
Fauci also said that the current situation in the US is “mixed” with states like New York that have done a good job in containing the virus despite a huge initial surge in cases and others in the South and West now setting daily records in numbers of newly confirmed cases.
He said that the next two weeks will be crucial in terms of the US capacity to deal with the spike in cases in Florida, Texas, Arizona and other states.
Nevertheless, he predicted that the US will be better prepared to deal with a possible second wave of the virus in the fall or winter, when he said he expects the country will have the capability to process between 40-50 million tests per month.
In addition, Fauci said he was “cautiously optimistic” about the possibility of having a coronavirus vaccine available by early 2021.
According to the World health Organization, currently 13 coronavirus vaccines are being tested in humans around the world. In the US, Moderna Therapeutics will enter “phase 3” of its present study in July and will test its vaccine in 30,000 volunteers.
However, there is still no definitive way to immunize people against the virus, which in the US has infected 2.3 million people – according to official figures – and killed more than 120,600, almost a quarter of the worldwide death toll, according to the independent tally being kept by The Johns Hopkins University.