President Donald Trump on Monday announced the U.S. had surpassed 10 million coronavirus tests this week and that $11 billion in federal funds would be provided for diagnostic tests throughout the states, saying “we have met the moment. We have prevailed.”
One reporter noted that the president misspoke Monday when he announced $1 billion for testing, which fell far short of the $11 billion set aside for diagnostic testing by the CARES Act that Trump signed into law in March.
During the press briefing in the White House Rose Garden, Trump clarified that “we have prevailed” was not a declaration of victory over the virus. As the U.S. death toll surpassed 80,000 people, he said that he was praising the government’s overall progress on testing.
“Three weeks ago we were conducting roughly 150,000 tests per day. Now were doing approximately 300,000 tests per day, a 100 pecent increase and it will go up substantially from that number,” the president said. “This week the United States will pass 10 million tests conducted, nearly the double the number of any other country. We’re testing more people per capita than South Korea, the United Kingdom, France Japan, Sweden and Finland and many other countries.”
Another reporter asked Trump if he had an expectation of what the coronavirus death toll might look like by the summer, to which Trump answered: “You know what — I don’t want to think about it, even.”
Trump then said that “people are dying in the lockdown position too,” adding “Look at what’s going on with drugs. Look at what’s happening with suicides.”
Health and Human Services Sec. Alex Azar was among U.S. officials seen wearing a face mask to the White House for the press briefing.
Trump has emphatically defended his administration’s efforts on diagnostic testing, but public health officials have continued to warn of the need for more testing in order for states to reopen safely. They maintain that the nation is nowhere near the testing capacity it needs to be to effectively curb the virus.
Trump’s testing czar, Adm. Brett Giroir, said “everybody who needs a test can get a test,” including those who have symptoms and those who have come in contact with individuals who have tested positive.
Trump at times has said that every American who wants to get tested daily as they return to work could do so “very soon,” but that outlook is seen by health officials as unrealistic given the current 300,000 tests being given per day.
The administration has previously said it expected to conduct 8 million tests in total for the month of May.
Trump has used the Defense Production Act to increase production of testing swabs and rolled out a blueprint on testing, but had put the burden on the states to ramp up their own testing.
Monday’s press briefing marked Trump’s first formal press briefing in two weeks and comes as the White House seeks to contain its own outbreak of the coronavirus after two aides tested positive for the virus, including the press secretary for Vice President Pence.
The president, who has been pushing for states to reopen businesses during the still widening pandemic, sounded many optimistic notes about the economy and the stock market in the third and fourth quarter of the year.
“We’re transitioning to greatness,” Trump said, predicting the country would see a significant turnaround by the end of the year.
“Next year, I think, we’re going to have one of the best years we’ve ever had,” Trump said.
In an unusual moment at the briefing, Washington Post reporter Philip Rucker pressed Trump about his tweets over the weekend which appeared to accuse former President Barack Obama of a crime. Trump’s tweets coincided with a viral conspiracy theory accusing Obama “of the biggest political crime in American history.”
Asked Monday what crimes the former president had committed, Trump avoided any specifics.
“Obamagate!” Trump exclaimed. “It’s been going on for a long time. Some terrible things happened. And you’ll be seeing what’s going on over the coming weeks.”
Rucker then asked, “What is the crime exactly that you're accusing him of?”
“You know what the crime is,” Trump said. “The crime is very obvious to everybody. All you have to do is read the newspapers, except yours.”
Briefing ends in heated exchange
The press briefing ended with a heated exchange between Trump and a reporter with CBS News.
With two giant banners hanging behind the podium, declaring “American Leads The World In Testing,” White House correspondent Weijia Jiang, who is Asian American, asked Trump why it was important for him to compare the level of testing in the United States to testing in the rest of the world.
“You said many times that the U.S. is doing far better than any other country when it comes to testing. Why does that matter? Why is this a global competition to you if everyday Americans are still losing their lives and we’re still seeing more cases everyday?” she asked.
“Well they’re losing their lives everywhere in the world,” Trump began to answer, but then suddenly turned directions. “And maybe that’s a question that you should ask China. Don’t ask me, ask China that question, okay? When you ask them that question you may get a very unusual answer.”
From there, Trump abruptly moved on to another reporter, but Jiang quickly followed up.
“Sir, Why are you saying that to me, specifically? That I should ask China?” she asked Trump pointedly.
“I’m not saying it specifically to anybody. I’m saying to anybody who would ask a nasty question like that,” Trump said, cutting her off.
“That’s not a nasty question,” Jiang fired back. Trump then got into an exchange with CNN reporter Kaitlan Collins, refused to answer her questions and walked away from the podium.
The president has scaled back what used to be regular briefings by the White House coronavirus task force, replacing them with more structured events spotlighting efforts to reopen the country’s economy amid the pandemic.
Masks ordered at White House
Earlier the White House announced that it would require most officials to wear face masks when inside the West Wing, but the new rules will not apply to Trump or Vice President Mike Pence.
Trump said he was the one who decided that all White House staff should wear masks. He said Pence tested negative for the virus again Monday, adding that “he’s in very good shape.”
When one reporter asked Trump why he doesn’t need to wear a mask, the president responded by saying he’s “not close to anybody” while working in the Oval Office.
Trump dismissed any cause for concern over the recent positive tests of White House staffers, saying he felt “no vulnerability whatsoever.”
Meanwhile, The White House is recommending all nursing home residents and staff be tested for the new coronavirus in the next two weeks.
Trump said he would “certainly consider” mandating that states conduct coronavirus testing in all nursing homes.
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.
The Associated Press obtained a recording of the meeting.
During the call, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer asked the vice president to publicly discourage anti-lockdown protests because of data showing the virus was spreading in rural areas of her state due to travel.
Dr. Deborah Birx, the task force coordinator, told governors to focus over the next two weeks on testing all one million nursing home residents. She said the White House will help states that need it.
Nursing homes and the elderly have been shown to be especially susceptible to the virus.
Pence on Monday led the White House’s weekly call with governors from an isolated room, after his press secretary tested positive Friday. Birx and other staffers participated as usual from a conference room in the Situation Room, Pence said, explaining the “slightly different circumstance.”
“We are taking the appropriate countermeasures to protect the president’s health,” Pence added, according to a recording obtained by the AP. The White House was moving to daily testing of some staff members to detect the disease.
The stepped-up protective measures comes as Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the CDC, and the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, Dr. Stephen Hahn, were all self-quarantining after exposure to the White House staffer.
The three experts are scheduled to testify before a Senate panel Tuesday on “Safely Getting Back to Work and Back to School.” However, they, along with committee chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, will all participate remotely. Alexander is quarantining after a staff member of his own tested positive for COVID-19.
The images of top administration officials taking such precautions come as states seek to loosen economic restrictions put in place to mitigate the virus’ spread.
Trump on Monday was complaining that Democratic governors were too slow in lifting restrictions in their states.
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.
Fauci’s institute said he was “taking appropriate precautions” to mitigate the risk to others while still carrying out his duties, teleworking from home but willing to go to the White House if called. Officials said both Redfield and Hahn will be self-quarantining for two weeks.
Pence’s press secretary, Katie Miller, tested positive for the coronavirus on Friday, making her the second person who works at the White House complex known to test positive for the virus in the past week. A military service member who acts as a valet to the president tested positive on Thursday, the first known instance for a person in close proximity to Trump at the White House.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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