President Donald Trump, first lady Melania Trump, and presidential aide Hope Hicks have tested positive for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. At this point the president is reportedly suffering from cold-like symptoms. All attendees at his campaign fundraiser at his Bedminster golf course yesterday are being urged to get tested for the virus.
Daily COVID-19 testing of the president began in early May, after his personal valet tested positive for the virus. Yet just one week later, at a campaign stop in Allentown, Pennsylvania, the president opined, "It could be that testing is, frankly, overrated. Maybe it is overrated. But whatever. They start yelling, 'We want more. We want more.' You know, they always say, 'We want more. We want more'—because they don't want to give you credit. Then we do more and they say, 'We want more.'"
The "we" who want more testing and who are failing to give the president "credit" that he evidently thinks he deserves for the relatively few tests that were then available are researchers and public health officials who have been arguing for months that cheap, rapid COVID-19 tests are a vital tool for jump-starting the economy by helping to contain the pandemic.
In a June 19 interview with The Wall Street Journal, the president again said, "I personally think testing is overrated, even though I created the greatest testing machine in history." He added that more testing in the U.S. led to an increase in confirmed cases, and that "in many ways, it makes us look bad."
At his misbegotten Tulsa campaign rally on June 20, Trump told his audience, "When you do testing to that extent, you're going to find more people, you're going to find more cases. So I said to my people, 'Slow the testing down, please.'" White House flacks quickly said the president had been joking. The next day, Trump contradicted that explanation, saying: "I don't kid. Let me just tell you—let me make it clear." Testing nationally may not have been slowed down, but it certainly has not been ramped up since June. It has been hovering for the past 3 months at around 750,000 tests per day.
That's not nearly enough testing, a group of researchers argued earlier this week in a New England Journal of Medicine article. "A regimen of regular testing works as a sort of Covid-19 filter, by identifying, isolating, and thus filtering out currently infected persons, including those who are asymptomatic," they explained. "For an effective Covid filter that will stop this pandemic, we need tests that can enable regimens that will capture most infections while they are still infectious. These tests exist today in the form of rapid lateral-flow antigen tests, and rapid lateral-flow tests based on CRISPR gene-editing technology are on the horizon. Such tests are cheap (<$5), can be produced in the tens of millions or more per week, and could be performed at home, opening the door to effective Covid filter regimens."
The Food and Drug Administration needs to stop dawdling and prioritize the approval of these cheap and rapid tests for daily use at schools, workplaces, restaurants, airports, and at home.
The president and first lady are taking the responsible course and quarantining themselves so that they do not risk infecting other people. It is way past time that we regular citizens have access to the COVID-19 testing that would give us the same option to protect ourselves and our families that the Trump family has been enjoying since May.