Leading infectious disease specialist in the United States, Anthony Fauci, said on Tuesday (23) in a Congressional hearing that Donald Trump never asked him to curtail coronavirus tests, after comments from the president to this effect triggered warnings.
“None of us have been instructed to cut the tests,” Fauci told a panel of the House of Representatives about efforts to mitigate the pandemic, which has killed more than 120,000 people in the United States since the first confirmed death in February.
“In fact, we will do more tests,” added Fauci.
Beside him, three other health officials who advise the White House also answered “no” without hesitation when a lawmaker asked if the president had asked to narrow the tests.
Along with Fauci, Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), Assistant Secretary of Health Brett Giroir and the head of the drug regulatory agency (FDA), Stephen Hahn, also declared.
Unlike Trump, who has never been seen in public wearing a mask since the pandemic began, experts wore it during the entire six-hour hearing, except when they needed to speak to the panel.
– Contradictions about testing –
Trump, who is seeking re-election in November, sparked a wave of criticism on Saturday when, at a campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, said the tests to detect COVID-19 are a “double-edged sword” because how much more are done, more cases are found.
“When you do the tests … You find more people, more cases,” he argued.
“So I said to my people, ‘Reduce the tests,'” added the president, in front of an audience in which the majority of participants did not wear masks or respect the recommended social distance to avoid infections.
A White House official later told AFP that Trump was joking, which led to even more outrage among the president’s critics.
But on Tuesday, the president insisted that his comments were not a joke.
“I’m not kidding,” Trump told reporters before highlighting the United States’ “COVID-19 detection system as” the best “in the world,” which he said looked at 25 million people.
“With more tests, we found more cases,” said Trump, also suggesting that high numbers are a political responsibility in an election year.
“Having more cases looks bad,” he said. “But in reality, what happens is that we are finding cases.”
His Democratic rival in the upcoming presidential election, former Vice President Joe Biden, criticizes Trump’s administration of the pandemic.
“It’s quite simple: if we want to save people’s work and people’s lives, we need more tests – and we need them faster. The president is intentionally slowing down,” wrote Biden on Twitter on Tuesday.
– “Crucial Weeks” –
Many states in the country have lifted virtually all containment measures.
However, about 20 states, mainly in the south and west, registered peaks in the number of infected.
“The next two weeks will be crucial” to respond to these “worrying” outbreaks, Fauci warned the congressional committee.
Without referring directly to the Tulsa rally, Fauci insisted that people “should not be gathered in a crowd”.
In “a demonstration or rally,” a mask should be worn, he added, as anti-racist protests take place in several cities in the United States following the case of George Floyd, an African American suffocated to death by a white policeman in Minnesota.
Fauci also said that he had not spoken to President Trump in “about two and a half weeks”.
– “Prudent Optimism” –
Government experts, in a joint statement, said the challenges posed by the pandemic are “historic” and “significant” and that this emergency “is likely” to extend.
“We are still in the first wave” of the pandemic, said Fauci, adding that “there will certainly be coronavirus infections this fall (boreal) and this spring (boreal) because the virus will not disappear.”
“We are cautiously optimistic” about the progress of research to obtain a vaccine, said Fauci, who expects the treatment to be available “by the end of the year” or in early 2021.
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