Even as thousands of protesters across the United States are defying lockdown orders and President Donald Trump is pushing for a rapid reopening of the country to stave off an economic crisis that threatens to be worse than the current lockdowns, many state governors are pushing back.
The governors say there are not enough testing kits to go round to justify a rapid reopening of the economy. On Sunday (April 19), responding to the governors’ complaints, Trump said he will use the Defense Production Act to increase the production of testing swabs to 20 million per month. A shortage of swabs, used to take samples, has acted as a bottleneck to testing widely for COVID-19 in the U.S.
While the ramping up of swab production will certainly speed up testing, the country would need a whopping 20 million tests a day to “fully re-mobilize the economy,” said a report by a panel of thought leaders is recommending.
The dispute plays out as the U.S. passed a grim milestone in its fight against the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the nation. By 11.30 p.m. EDT Sunday, the country had recorded more than 40,000 deaths — 40, 679 to be exact, and the largest for any country so far — and 759,569 infections. New York City accounted for a large share of the deaths, as it rapidly neared the 14,500 mark, a dashboard maintained by the John Hopkins University showed.
New York state has the most number of coronavirus infections, with 247,215 cases and over 18,000 deaths; followed by New Jersey with over 85,000 cases and more than 4,200 deaths, according to Worldometer. The pandemic has so far infected more than 2.4 million people worldwide, causing more than 165,000 deaths.
Trump and Vice President Mike Pence said at Friday’s White House press briefing that states have enough testing capability, and that the U.S. is “fully sufficient” to begin opening up the country “totally.” On Saturday, Trump repeatedly blamed Democrat governors for not making full use of their states’ COVID-19 testing capacity. The John Hopkins dashboard shows 617,555 people have so far been tested in New York, a state with 19.5 million population.
“They don’t want to use all of the capacity that we’ve created. We have tremendous capacity,” Trump said at the White House briefing, according to CNN. “They know that. The governors know that. The Democrat governors know that. They’re the ones that are complaining.”
Trump’s claims and criticisms flew in the face of the acknowledgement by health experts of testing shortages around the country. Both Republican and Democratic governors have reported shortages in supplies and they are forcefully pushing back against Trump’s assertions.
The governors say they have been “fighting” to get more tests from the federal government as well as from private laboratories. In an interview with CNN’s “State of the Union,” Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam termed Trump’s claims that there were enough tests to begin reopening state economies as “delusional,” noting that they are still “fighting” for personal protective equipment as well as testing.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan also noted the problem with the lack of testing in the state, describing it as “the number one problem in America and has been from the beginning of this crisis.”
“The administration, I think, is trying to ramp up testing and trying — they are doing some things with respect to private labs,” Hogan told CNN. “But to try to push this off, to say that the governors have plenty of testing and they should just get to work on testing, somehow we aren’t doing our job, is just absolutely false.”
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitman noted the federal government needs to coordinate with the states, while another governor, who remained anonymous, voiced similar frustrations regarding the White House’s statements on CNN’s Jake Tapper.
So far, the Covid Tracking Project notes that the U.S. is conducting about 150,000 diagnostic tests daily. According to researchers from Harvard, that number needs to at least triple in order to justify a partial reopening of the country’s economy and ease the current restrictions.
At his Sunday evening news conference, Trump defended his response to the pandemic and announced the administration is preparing to use the Defense Production Act to increase production of test swabs by over 20 million per month.
However, the New York Times notes that he did not specify the company that will produce the test swabs or when the Act will be invoked. His aides also did not immediately respond when asked for details.
An ABC News report said a panel of more than 45 economists, social scientists, lawyers and ethicists will publish a report titled “Roadmap to Pandemic Resilience” on Monday. They estimate that even to safely open parts of the economy by late July, the producers will need to deliver 5 million tests per day by early June. Other estimates say the U.S. may need more than 30 million tests per day, ABC reported.
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