Trump claims US leads the world in testing

PRESS BRIEFING: President Donald Trump addresses a COVID-19 press briefing in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, D.C., on Monday, May 11. Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

WASHINGTON — Amid criticism that the United States has not done enough to test its population for coronavirus infections as cases have soared, President Donald Trump claimed Monday that his administration is besting the world in testing and that it will help states expand such efforts, which are a key element of lifting the safety restrictions that have shuttered much of the economy since March.

The administration said it will distribute $11 billion to states to facilitate testing – from money already approved by Congress for coronavirus relief – as Trump claimed, "We have met the moment and we have prevailed." He said the United States should pass 10 million completed tests this week, "nearly double the number of any other country."

Officials outlined the plan in front of huge banners that proclaimed "America leads the world in testing." Trump said that with the federal help, each state would be able to test more people per capita in May than South Korea has tested in four months. South Korea is often held up as a model for how to deploy tests and use the results to slow the spread of the deadly virus.

But the White House event Monday afternoon amounted to an acknowledgment that there is not yet enough testing capacity across the United States, even as more than 40 states are in some stage of lifting restrictions on travel, work and school. The president's claims about U.S. testing benchmarks do not account for what health experts have criticized as the slow pace of testing capability in the United States this spring, a delay that some attribute to the rapid spread of the virus, the mounting death toll and uncertainty about the way forward.

"Testing is absolutely critical and is the only way to get back to work in any safer form," said Eileen O'Connor, a spokeswoman for the Rockefeller Foundation, which has been working with companies and government leaders on increasing testing. "Unless you have the data, you don't know where the disease is going."

Not the full picture

The United States as of Sunday had completed nearly 9 million coronavirus tests, according to the Covid Tracking Project. While an enormous number, the amount is equivalent to 2.74% of the U.S. population and does not give a full representation of the virus' reach within American society.

There are far higher levels of per-capita testing in other parts of the world. In tiny Iceland, the figure is a 15.4%, but that amounts to about 54,000 tests across a population of 352,000 people.

Yet major industrialized economies with large outbreaks also have fared better in testing than the United States: Italy has conducted tests equivalent to 4.31% of its population, and Germany is at 3.35%. The United States also is still behind its northern neighbor, Canada, where its 1.09 million tests are now equivalent to 2.95% of the county's population.

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