I can’t believe how little this is being talked about.
Because among the bizarre statements and absurdist pieces of performance art Trump displayed onstage (including a 10-minute riff on his own ability to walk down a gentle ramp, and a strange demonstration that he can actually drink a glass of water–if only slowly and carefully) came one of the most shocking admissions by a president in all modern history. Trump boasted that he had asked his officials to slow down COVID-19 testing because the rising number of cases was making him look bad.
“Here’s the bad part: 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.”
He then emphasized the point by implying that many of the positive test results didn’t really matter if they were among young people likely to recover. He spoke dismissively of a “young man, 10 years old” who “got the sniffles–he’s gonna recover in about 15 minutes.” And then he waited for applause. Of course, some young people do die of COVID-19, and many more may have lifelong health complications that we are only just now beginning to understand. Most importantly, even that healthy 10-year-old can then become a vector to transmit the disease to an aging or more vulnerable person with potentially fatal consequences. So of course it matters if he tests positive, and Trump’s dismissal of the importance of testing him speaks volumes about his lack of understanding of the pandemic and of his callousness in placing his own political interest ahead of public health.
But let’s come back to the main shocking statement: “I said to my people, slow the testing down please.” It is hard to overstate the sheer evil of it. The only way to stop a widespread pandemic is through mass, universal testing, aggressive contact tracing and isolation measures. To slow down testing for any reason virtually guarantees the deaths of thousands, to say nothing of broader damage to the social fabric and to the economy. To slow down testing for political reasons is particularly abominable.