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Trump’s Take On COVID Testing Misses Public Health Realities

Shefali Luthra, Kaiser Health News

President Donald Trump sought to downplay the numbers related to COVID-19 within the United States — which have handed 2 million confirmed instances and are nearing 120,000 lives misplaced — by arguing that the hovering nationwide rely was merely the results of superior testing.

“If you don’t test, you don’t have any cases,” Trump said at a June 15 roundtable discussion on the White House. “If we stopped testing right now, we’d have very few cases, if any.”

It’s a speaking level the administration is emphasizing. Vice President Mike Pence reiterated it throughout a telephone name to Republican governors that night, recommending they use the argument as a technique to quiet public concern about surging case tallies in some states. It’s additionally a variation on a tweet the president despatched earlier within the day.

With that in thoughts, we needed to dig deeper. We reached out to the White House for remark or clarification, however we by no means heard again. Independent researchers informed us, although, that the president’s remarks aren’t solely deceptive — they’re additionally counterproductive by way of pondering via what’s wanted to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

The Big Picture

Essentially, the president is arguing that the United States is discovering extra instances of COVID-19 as a result of we’re testing extra — and that our elevated testing makes it seem the pandemic is worse within the U.S. than in different international locations.

“We will show more — more cases when other countries have far more cases than we do; they just don’t talk about it,” he added.

But that isn’t true.

The numbers paint a stark image. The United States has recorded 2.1 million cases of the novel virus to date, a couple of quarter of the worldwide whole and greater than another nation. To Trump’s level, the nation is testing more now than it did initially of the outbreak — per capita, the U.S. is within the prime 20% of nations with regards to cumulative assessments run.

This beefed-up testing nonetheless doubtless displays an undercount in instances, although. The drawback is that the U.S. outbreak is worse than that of many different international locations — so we must be testing a better proportion of our inhabitants than do others.

To greatest perceive this, think about the number of tests necessary to determine a optimistic case. If it’s simpler to discover a optimistic case, that implies the virus has unfold additional and extra testing is important to trace the unfold of COVID-19.

For occasion, statistics from the United States and the United Kingdom are pretty comparable by way of what number of coronavirus assessments are finished each day per million folks. But these assessments yield much more optimistic instances within the United States. That suggests the outbreak right here requires extra per capita testing than does the U.Ok.’s.

“We have a much bigger epidemic, so you have to test more proportionately,” stated Jennifer Kates, a senior vice chairman at KFF.

Put one other method, a bigger well being disaster means — even after controlling for inhabitants measurement — the United States must take a look at extra folks to search out out the place and the way the virus has unfold. (KHN is an editorially unbiased program of KFF, the Kaiser Family Foundation.)

And whereas the U.S. has ramped up its testing since March, many elements of the nation nonetheless don’t have adequate programs in place — from amenities to employees to medical provides — for diagnosing COVID-19, researchers informed us.

What If We Stopped Testing?

And what in regards to the president’s assertion that “if we stopped testing right now, we’d have very few cases” or none in any respect?

On its literal phrasing, it’s absurd, specialists stated.

“The implication that not testing makes the problem go away is completely false. It could not be more false,” stated Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, vice dean for public well being follow and group engagement on the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore. That’s as a result of testing doesn’t create situations of the virus — it’s only a method of exhibiting and monitoring them. (The president made the same level throughout the identical White House roundtable occasion.)

But even for those who take it figuratively — the concept that our expanded testing assets have inflated our sense of the epidemic — it’s nonetheless deceptive.

“We’re seeing a lot of cases because we’re testing? It just doesn’t ring true,” Kates stated. “The U.S. has made a lot of progress for sure. But that job is not finished.”

The president’s declare is an element of a bigger reelection technique, argued Robert Blendon, a well being care pollster on the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The concept is to recommend that the well being disaster is generally exaggerated — and that issues are getting higher, and Americans ought to really feel comfy going again to work. “If the economy takes off, the president has a chance of reelection,” Blendon stated. “If it contracts as a result of expansion of cases, and the only way we know how to respond is restriction of economic activity, he’s gone.”

But the issue, Blendon added, is that COVID-19 counts are nonetheless climbing in a number of states. And individuals are nonetheless dying of the virus.

That will get at one other level: Diagnostic testing isn’t the one knowledge supply to disclose the pandemic’s existence. Let’s not overlook about hospitalization charges and dying counts. The variety of deaths continues to rise, and hospitalizations are increased than they’d be within the virus’s absence.

Our Ruling

Trump argued that the nation’s excessive rely of COVID-19 instances is just a results of our expanded testing capability. His level is solely incorrect.

The most related knowledge means that the U.S. isn’t testing sufficient to match the severity of the pandemic. Even with our increased testing ratio, we’re in all probability nonetheless undercounting in contrast with different international locations.

Testing doesn’t create the virus. Even with out diagnostics, COVID-19 would nonetheless pose an issue. We simply would know much less about it.

And, in truth, eliminating testing could alter the general public’s notion of the pandemic but it surely wouldn’t conceal it. If something, it will doubtless worsen the disaster, because the public well being system wouldn’t know how you can precisely monitor and stop the unfold of the coronavirus.

The president’s declare has no benefit and significantly misrepresents the severity of the general public well being disaster. We fee it Pants on Fire.

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a nationwide well being coverage information service. It is an editorially unbiased program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which isn’t affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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