If Trump is cutting funds for coronavirus testing, he should start at the White House

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Trump has spent the past few weeks complaining about the supposedly too-high volume of testing across the country. “If we stop testing right now, we’d have very few cases, if any,” he has lamented, as if Americans are suffering not from covid-19 but from Schrödinger’s Virus.

At his rally last weekend in Tulsa, amid rants about ramps and tall tales about his water-drinking abilities, Trump announced he was doing something about this alleged over-testing problem.

“When you do testing to that extent, you’re going to find more people, you’re going to find more cases,” Trump said. “So I said to my people, ‘Slow the testing down, please.’ ”

Over subsequent days hispeopleinsisted that he was joking. Of course the president wouldn’t reduce testing for a highly infectious disease during a global pandemic, they declared.

They gave Trump an out, and he declined to take it.

Asked to clarify whether he had merely been kidding, he told reporters Tuesday: “I don’t kid.” He went on to complain that testing was catching people who “aren’t sick or very little.” As if those who are “very little” sick will cease to be contagious if the world refuses to acknowledge their contagiousness.

On Wednesday, the administration acknowledged its plans to end funding and other support for 13 coronavirus testing sites at the end of June. This means withdrawing support for community-based testing sites across five states — including Texas, whose confirmed cases and hospitalizations recently reached record highs. Federal officials told reporters they had not been pressured to reduce testing and that the plan all along had been to eventually turn these sites over to local officials.

If Trump’s underlings would like to follow their boss’s stated wishes, however, there’s one testing location they could shut down immediately: the Oval Office, and the concentric circles (ovals?) enveloping it.

Throughout the pandemic, Trump and those in his immediate orbit have enjoyed (or perhaps suffered) seemingly unlimited access to rapid coronavirus testing.

Even under recently “scaled back” screening, “Every staff member and guest in close proximity to the president and vice president is still being temperature-checked, asked symptom histories and tested for COVID-19,” according to White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere.

By Trump’s thinking, it could well be such testing that led several Trump campaign staffers and Secret Service employees to recently be diagnosed with the illness — not, say, their work planning the potential super-spreader event that was Trump’s Tulsa rally.

Since then, dozens of additional Secret Service officers and agents and several Trump campaign staffers who came into contact with these diagnosed individuals have been instructed to self-quarantine. This also seems to violate Trump and his advisers’ usual epidemiological advice for the public: to buck up and resume regular routines as quickly as possible.

Can’t let the virus smell your fear, you see.

Trump is, allegedly, a man of the people. Here is an opportunity for him to prove his populist bona fides: He can subject himself to exactly the same testing, tracing and social distancing constraints he wishes to foist upon the American people. If he truly believes that reduced testing is the best policy response, and it’s better not to know who is infected, he should reduce the testing around him and refuse to be tested himself. What’s more, he could direct everyone around him to eschew masks (some, following his selfish model, already have) and return to business as usual.

Reopen the White House, just as Trump wishes to reopen the economy. Let White House denizens live in ignorance of their potential exposure to coronavirus, just as they live in ignorance of so much else.

Alternatively, of course, rather than practicing what he preaches, Trump could preach what he already practices.

That is, he could urge Congress to provide funds to massively scale up White House-style testing and tracing — and extend it to the rest of the country. (This would be expensive but not prohibitively so.) Then, more Americans could feel safer shopping, socializing, going to work, sending their children to school and engaging in any other activities that Trump aides, safe in their hyper-tested bubble, might do.

If, then, Trump still wishes to remain oblivious to what the real numbers are, fine. We can all agree not to tell him.

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