A Yahoo News White House correspondent apologized to President Donald Trump on Tuesday for asking a question that incorrectly claimed that the United States had conducted fewer tests per capita for COVID-19 than South Korea.
Hunter Walker admitted that he misread a chart and mixed up numbers when addressing his question to the president during a news conference at the Oval Office with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
“Overall, South Korea has done five times more tests than the U.S. per capita. Why is that?” Walker asked.
“I don’t think that’s true,” the president responded.
“That is true,” Walker asserted.
Shortly later, he was corrected by White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx, who said the United States had directed its initial response toward areas where there was an outbreak and later offered specific numbers, saying that the U.S. testing rate had surpassed South Korea’s.
“South Korea’s testing was 11 per 100,000 [citizens], and we are at 17 per 100,000,” Birx said.
The United States has, as of April 28, tested 16,959 people for every 1 million residents, surpassing South Korea’s figures of 11,869 tests per 1 million people, according to the COVID Tracking Project and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Trump then asked Walker if Yahoo News would acknowledge its error.
“Are you going to apologize, Yahoo?” Trump said.
In the Oval Office, I asked about test rates and infection rates compared to South Korea. President Trump and Dr. Birx said I was wrong that they’ve done more tests per capita. Trump said I should apologize. They did not address multiple questions about our higher infection rate.
— Hunter Walker (@hunterw) April 28, 2020
Later Tuesday, Walker issued an apology to the president on Twitter stating that he had misread “the mobile version” of a testing chart.
We have passed South Korea in the number of tests conducted per capita. I misread the mobile version of this chart and am sorry about that @realDonaldTrump . Our infection rate is far higher though as I noted.
— Hunter Walker (@hunterw) April 28, 2020
“In the Oval Office, I asked about test rates and infection rates compared to South Korea. President Trump and Dr. Birx said I was wrong that they’ve done more tests per capita. Trump said I should apologize,” Walker wrote. “They did not address multiple questions about our higher infection rate.”
“We have passed South Korea in the number of tests conducted per capita,” the reporter continued. “I misread the mobile version of this chart and am sorry about that @realDonaldTrump. Our infection rate is far higher though as I noted.”
The president, at a later event, thanked Walker for the apology and said he appreciated it.
White House to Expand Tests
Trump on Monday unveiled new plans to speed up and expand testing for the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus nationwide, as states move toward reopening their economies.
During a press briefing with the White House Coronavirus Task Force, the president said the White House had published two new documents—a CDC “testing overview” (pdf) and “testing blueprint” (pdf)—which lay out plans to accelerate testing for the CCP virus, commonly known as the novel coronavirus, which has been attributed to over 1 million infections across the United States.
The new strategy aims to help states expand testing capacity, and was developed with the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration. The guidance was coupled with announcements that hundreds of new testing sites would be opened by retailers, including Walmart and CVS Health.
Some 5.7 million tests have been conducted across the United States so far, according to the COVID Tracking Project.
Birx said there are three parts to the strategy—the “robust diagnostic testing” of those who are unwell, the testing of vulnerable communities, and a “rapid response program” that would include contact tracing.
Ultimately, the aim is to “ensure that every symptomatic case and critically, the asymptomatic cases, are quickly tracked and traced to ensure that not only can we control this epidemic, but predict outbreaks before they expand,” she said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.