Top US infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci has undercut Donald Trump's claim that he directed his health policy advisers to slow down the rate of testing to bring down the number of reported US cases.
"None of us have ever been told to slow down on testing. That just is a fact," Mr Fauci told a House committee, a direct contradiction of Mr Trump's comments at a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, over the weekend.
"In fact, we will be doing more testing," Mr Fauci said, pointing to a plan outlined by Centres for Disease Control and Prevention Director (CDC) Robert Redfield to boost testing and tracing systems.
Mr Fauci, Mr Redfield, and two other top health experts were testifying at a House Energy and Commerce Committee oversight hearing on the Covid-19 pandemic on Tuesday.
At his rally in Tulsa, Mr Trump compared coronavirus testing to a "double-edged sword," lamenting the possibility that the US has more cases of the disease than anyone else because of its robust testing regime, which initially lagged but has since caught up and surpassed many parts of the rest of the world. (Despite Mr Trump's gripes, the people who test positive still carry the virus, undercutting his implied desire for less testing.)
“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,'" the president said.
The White House later walked back the statement made by the president by saying he was joking about asking to slow down testing.
White House economic advisor Peter Navarro called the moment “tongue-in-cheek” in an interview with CNN on Sunday.
But asked on Tuesday by a reporter whether he was kidding about directing health officials to draw down testing, Mr Trump responded, "I don't kid."
It was unclear if Mr Trump heard the whole question, as the engines of the executive's helicopter, Marine One, hummed in the background.
"We have got the greatest testing programme anywhere in the world," Mr Trump added. "By having more tests, we find more cases. ... By having more cases, it sounds bad."
While the president has continued to complain about the bad optics of the US having more cases than any other country in the world, top health officials in his administration urged the continuation of testing as cases of Covid-19 spike again in some states – most of which began the re-opening process before states that have seen a decline or plateauing of confirmed cases.
"All of us have been and continue to be committed to increasing readily, timely access to testing," Mr Redfield told lawmakers on Tuesday.
Mr Fauci said he is "cautiously optimistic" a vaccine will be ready for mass consumption in the US by the end of 2020 or early 2021.
“Although you can never guarantee at all the safety and efficacy of a vaccine until you test in the field, we feel cautiously optimistic based on the concerted effort and the fact that we are taking financial risks to be able to be ahead of the game so that when … we get favourable candidates with good results, we will be able to make them available to the American public,” Mr Fauci said, adding that the US government is financially aiding 14 vaccine candidates.
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