A leaked recording shows Donald Trump telling governors on a conference call that the US was no longer facing a shortfall in coronavirus testing kits – even as the governors themselves reported severe problems in their own states, including a lack of testing materials and of personal protective equipment (PPE) for medical workers carrying the tests out.
The audio recording released by CBS features Anthony Fauci, who has served as one of the president’s highest-profile advisers on the pandemic, asking Montana governor Steve Bullock if his state has what it needs.
“Do you have any system in place that you feel can adequately identify cases and isolate them and contact-trace them,” he asks, “or are the capabilities and resources there that that’s not something you can do given with what you have?”
Mr Bullock replies that Montana is on the verge of being unable to cope. “Dr Fauci, we are trying to do contact tracing, but literally we are one day away if we don’t get test kits from the CDC that we wouldn’t be able to do testing in Montana.”
He says he is finding it hard to source the equipment his state needs either on the private market or from the federal government: “The private market is telling us is that it’s the national resources that are then taking our orders apart. Basically, we’re getting our orders cancelled – that’s for PPE, that’s for testing supplies, that’s for testing equipment.”
Mr Trump responds blithely: “I haven’t heard about testing in weeks. We’ve tested more now than any nation in the world. We’ve got these great tests and we’ll come out with another one tomorrow where it’s, you know, almost instantaneous testing. But I haven’t heard about testing being a problem.”
Reports of problems with testing have been a major feature of the US’s coronavirus epidemic since it began to gather pace in February, and remain a running sore as the country struggles to slow the virus’s spread. In recent days, the administration has faced questions about why a nationwide network of drive-through testing sites it promised to set up has so far failed to materialise.
There are also reports that Mr Trump did not push for mass testing early in the pandemic because he feared a higher infection rate could harm his chances of re-election.
The legacy of the early chaos around testing is found not just in the growing number of deaths and cases, but in the difficulty governors are having predicting what’s to come.
Ohio governor Mike DeWine has said that he expects his state to reach its peak number of infections between mid-April and mid-May, and chalked the width of that margin up to testing problems. “Part of this is driven by the fact that we don’t have widespread testing. That is not unique to Ohio, we have seen that throughout the country. That’s been a real challenge.”
Mr Trump has previously said that he wants governors to show some gratitude for his efforts to help them, declaring at a White House briefing that “All I want them to do, very simple, I want them to be appreciative. I don’t want them to say things that aren’t true, I want them to be appreciative. We’ve done a great job”.