As coronavirus cases are spiking in several parts of the country, many are surprised President Donald Trump said this at his rally in Tulsa: “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.”
His administration later said the president was just kidding, but asked about the comment Tuesday, Trump doubled down, saying, “I don’t kid.”
Dr. David Brown, chief of emergency medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, called the narrative from the president confusing.
“Less testing doesn’t mean fewer cases. Less testing will just mean we’ll be aware of fewer cases, which puts us as a medical community at a distinct disadvantage,” Brown said.
As the country starts to re-open, testing becomes even more important, Brown said, “to try to get ahead of the curve and understand where the disease is re-emerging in a particular community.”
But the president's insistence on speaking counter to that medical consensus about coronavirus testing -- the top health officials in his administration testified Tuesday that the need to expand testing is “critical” -- is the latest aspect of the pandemic that highlights how even COVID-19 has created a partisan divide.
While Democrats are more inclined to wear masks, support testing and avoid crowds, Trump and his supporters are more focused on returning to normal life.
“It’s all linked to concerns about the economy and the impact of that on reelection chances,” Southern New Hampshire University professor Dean Spiliotes said.
He said it’s not that people aren’t getting the message, it’s that people are choosing what they want to hear.
“We could do a whole seminar here on political psychology ... the desire to filter out information that is not in keeping with your prior beliefs and your tendency to handpick information and reinforce information that fits with your prior beliefs,” he said.
What drives those beliefs for the medical community is the science on the coronavirus pandemic.
“Now is not the time to let down our guard, now is the time to be even more vigilant,” Brown said.