Dr. Anthony Fauci told House lawmakers Tuesday that administration officials have not been ordered to slow down COVID-19 testing, despite President Donald Trump’s remarks at a rally, apparently made in jest, that he asked officials to “slow the testing down.”
Trump told supporters at Saturday’s rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, that COVID-19 testing was “a double-edged sword.”
“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,” Trump said. “So I said to my people, ‘slow the testing down please.'”
Administration officials said Trump made the remarks in jest, with White House adviser Peter Navarro telling CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday that the president was “obviously kidding.”
Fauci, who on Tuesday testified on the federal response to the pandemic before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said there had been no order from Trump to wind down testing.
“I know for sure that, to my knowledge, none of us have ever been told to slow down on testing,” Fauci told the panel when asked by committee chair Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) about Trump’s comments. “That just is a fact. In fact, we will be doing more testing.”
He said testing and contact surveillance were key to understanding how the deadly pathogen spreads in the community and insisted there would, in fact, be more testing.
“So, it’s the opposite. We’re going to be doing more testing, not less,” Fauci told the committee.
Joining Fauci in committee testimony was Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who told lawmakers there had been no directive to slow down testing.
“One of the key things, as Tony mentioned, is surveillance, expanding surveillance, because of the asymptomatic nature of this infection,” Redfield said. “And in doing so, we’re looking at ways that can really substantially enhance testing by potentially pooling samples.”
He said currently between 500,000 and 600,000 tests per day were being done across the United States and he and other White House Coronavirus Task Force members were seeking solutions that would increase this several-fold.
“If we can pool samples five to one, that would bring it to three million tests per day,” Redfield said, adding, “so we’re continuing to try and enhance testing, it’s a critical underpinning of our response.”
Trump triggered a fresh round of criticism on Monday when a reporter asked him whether he was “kidding” when making his comments on testing in Tulsa and he replied, “I don’t kid.” Trump then qualified his statement by apparently seeking to clarify that he was serious about the claim that “by having more tests, we have more cases.”
The president explicitly told CBN News in an interview Monday that he did not order members of his administration to cut down on testing and made the comment in Tulsa “semi-tongue in cheek.”
“No,” Trump answered when asked whether he had issued such a directive, adding, “but I think we put ourselves at a disadvantage” by doing a lot of testing, clarifying that by doing fewer tests “we’d look like we were doing much better because we’d have far fewer cases.”
“I wouldn’t do that, but I will say this: We do so much more than other countries it makes us, in a way, look bad but actually we’re doing the right thing,” Trump told CBN.