Why the White House said no to virus testing in Trumpland | Editorial

Posted Jun 25, 2020

What are we to make of President Trump’s declaration in Tulsa that he ordered his people to “slow down” testing for coronavirus, because it drove up the numbers and made his stats look bad? 

“When you do testing to that extent, you’re going to find more people, you’re going to find more cases,” the president said at his rally on Saturday. “So I said to my people, ‘Slow the testing down, please.’”

Let’s walk through it from South Jersey Congressman Andy Kim’s perspective, since he just went after Trump on Twitter. 

As early as March, Kim was clamoring for a third, federally-backed testing site; to be located in South Jersey, run by the state and supported by FEMA — the Federal Emergency Management Agency. 

At that time, New Jersey had the second highest number of positive tests in the country, but only two FEMA testing sites, both up North. Because test kits were scarce, you had to be symptomatic to get a test.

Still, hoards of people lined up before dawn, their cars snaking three miles long at the two sites, which kept hitting capacity and closing early. 

Private labs were slow to ramp up, and at the county level, sometimes they’d have test kits, but no protective equipment to mobilize. 

“To have FEMA deploy would have been a real gamechanger for us,” Kim recalls, as in other big disasters like Superstorm Sandy. “We were just in such a dire need.” 

Because resources are allocated based on testing, he also wanted South Jerseyans to have equal access, even though the epicenter appeared to be further North. Yet weeks went by with no response from FEMA. 

By April, our state had a staggering number of cases and deaths. Kim got New Jersey’s entire congressional delegation to sign on to a bipartisan letter, again pleading for another FEMA testing site in South Jersey. But the feds denied it outright. 

“They said they had run this up the flagpole to the White House, which rejected it, and just categorically rejected setting up any more federally-run testing sites in the country,” he recalled.

Meanwhile, Kim’s office was being inundated with calls; thousands of new infections were reported every day. Even health care workers couldn’t get tested. “It’s still a raw nerve for me,” he says. 

After that call, he channeled his efforts into legislation, a bill to allocate $25 billion to create a national testing program. Yet the Trump administration continued to drag its feet, even though a bipartisan Congress passed a law mandating it set up such a program. That money is still largely unspent

“It shows the level of resistance the White House had,” says Kim, who’s now on a federal coronavirus task force. Then came Trump’s remark at his June rally in Tulsa, which left the congressman fuming. 

“I just couldn’t believe it,” Kim said. “I felt like, for the first time, I’m not getting it filtered to me through staffers at FEMA. This was straight from the president’s mouth.”

It was clearly a fully-formed idea in Trump’s head, not some idle jest, as his spokespeople later claimed. Trump’s unvarnished assessment is that testing is a double-edged sword, a PR problem, so he needed to tell his people to slow it down. 

“I was thinking about the long lines, and literally people waiting hours in their cars for tests at those two FEMA facilities, and the backlog we had,” Kim recounted. “That’s what was going through my mind when I heard what the president said. And I think he has a lot to answer for his actions.” 

Make no mistake: South Jersey is Trump’s stronghold in our state. Many of those denied tests were his own supporters. In their hour of greatest need, he reminded us where his priorities really lie: As always, with himself.

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