The Trump administration has faced mounting criticism over the lack of coronavirus tests in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, less than 15,000 specimens have been tested in the U.S. since mid-January, while China and South Korea are reportedly conducting tens of thousands tests per day.
So why has the country has fallen so far behind when it comes to coronavirus testing? According to Politico's Dan Diamond, it was largely due to Donald Trump's self-serving political interests. Diamond told NPR that health officials were well aware the deadly disease posed a major threat to the U.S. back in January, but that "infighting at the Department of Health and Human Services and the need to flatter Trump impeded the response to the coronavirus."
Shortly after officials began confirming coronavirus cases in the U.S., Trump made multiple public comments that downplayed the risk posed by the disease.
"The Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus," Trump said during a South Carolina rally last month. "One of my people came up to me and said, 'Mr. President, they tried to beat you on Russia, Russia, Russia.' That did not work out too well. They could not do it. They tried the impeachment hoax. ... They tried anything. ... And this is their new hoax."
Trump also compared the coronavirus to the flu while speaking to reporters in late February. "But when I mentioned the flu, I said—actually, I asked the various doctors. I said, 'Is this just like flu?' Because people die from the flu," Trump said. "And this is very unusual. And it is a little bit different, but in some ways it's easier and in some ways it's a little bit tougher. But we have it so well under control. I mean, we really have done a very good job."
Diamond told NPR that Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar had tried to warn POTUS about the potential dangers of a coronavirus pandemic; however, Trump allegedly dismissed the warnings and calls for increased testing because he feared it would hurt his reelection bid.
"He did not push to do aggressive testing in recent weeks, and that’s partly because more testing might have led to more cases being discovered of coronavirus outbreak," Diamond said. "And the president had made clear—the lower the numbers on coronavirus, the better for the president, the better for his potential reelection this fall."
It's also worth noting that at the end of last month, the World Health Organization began shipping coronavirus tests to nearly 60 countries; the U.S. did not receive the kits, as officials opted for the CDC to create its own tests. This, of course, caused a delay in testing and, consequently, a delayed response.
"The World Health Organization did have a working test," Diamond said. "Someone somewhere made the decision that the U.S. was going to go its own way, and that started a chain reaction of not having a working test and then having these delays for weeks—so certainly a failure, not necessarily the worst failure but the one that started us down this path."
On Friday, Trump declared a national emergency over the coronavirus pandemic, insisting his team was working to "dramatically increase the availability of tests."
"I am officially declaring a national emergency—two very big words," Trump said. "The action I am taking will open up access to up to $50 billion of very important [funds]...and a large amount of money for states, territories, and localities."
Trump also rejected responsibility for the slow development of widely available testing.