On March 6, President Donald Trump issued out the now-infamous proclamation about coronavirus testing, in order to ease rising fears about the disease.
“Anybody that needs a test gets a test, they’re there,” Trump said during a visit to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Almost 10 weeks later, that promise remains unfulfilled. Indeed, Trump walked back on the promise just one week after making it, saying that not everyone in the country needed to be tested for COVID-19.
Behind the scenes at the White House, the debate on testing hinged on a different feature — not on whether the American people wanted or needed testing, but whether a broader number of tests would cause financial markets to react negatively.
According to reporting from The Financial Times, sources close to Trump say he was advised by his son-in-law Jared Kushner, who also serves as one of his top advisers, against the push for more testing. Wall Street, Kushner argued according to that source, would not like knowing that more Americans were infected with the disease.
Kushner’s advice may also have been the reason why it took Trump so long to finally order American manufacturing companies to start producing ventilators.
“Jared [Kushner] had been arguing that testing too many people, or ordering too many ventilators, would spook the markets and so we just shouldn’t do it,” the source alleged. “That advice worked far more powerfully on him than what the scientists were saying. He thinks they always exaggerate.”
Trump is reportedly hinging on having a good economy in place as part of his political strategy during his reelection campaign. According to other sources, it’s the main reason why he’s making such a hard push to end social distancing across much of the country, with the idea being that reopening the economy will lead to positive financial numbers by November that voters can supposedly credit him with creating.
If Kushner’s advice to Trump was that more testing would scare the markets, it was apparently bad advice to give. Stocks surged, for instance, in March when Trump made the promise that testing would be amped up. But after it became apparent that testing capabilities weren’t where Trump said they were, markets took another plunge, and have plateaued for most of the past month.
The president may have received the hint on that front, understanding now that Americans and stock traders want to see better testing in place. Trump has made efforts in recent days to suggest testing is at a high level in the United States.
“We’ve prevailed on testing. You never prevail when you have 90,000 people, 100,000, when you have 80,000 people as of today,” Trump said on Monday. “What I’m talking about is we have a great testing capacity now.”
Trump has also wrongly asserted that the U.S. leads the world in testing. While we have indeed conducted more tests in terms of raw numbers, on a per capita basis we’re nowhere near the top, with dozens of countries presently ahead of us on that mark. More than 9.6 million tests for coronavirus have been conducted in the U.S. as of this week, accounting for less than 3 percent of the nation’s population.
According to the Harvard Global Health Institute, more than 900,000 individuals need to be tested per day in order for the economy to reopen in a safe way. As of last week, the U.S. had achieved less than a third of that amount, around 248,000 tests per day.