President Donald Trump late Thursday released a vague plan to reopen the U.S. economy that—in a retreat from his claim of "total" authority—puts the onus on states to decide when to lift coronavirus prevention measures and contains no national strategy for the kind of massive testing expansion that public health experts say is necessary before any safe return to normalcy.
The new White House guidelines, titled "Opening Up America Again" (pdf), say states should have the "ability to quickly set up safe and efficient screening and testing sites for symptomatic individuals and trace contacts of COVID+ results" before reopening their economies. But governors have repeatedly and directly warned Trump that, without federal assistance, their states do not have the capacity to expand testing on the scale that is needed.
"If you are a straight news reporter it doesn't undermine your neutrality to characterize the failure on testing as a failure. It is an objective fact that they failed to meet any of the metrics set by public health professionals or even their internal goals."
—Sen. Brian Schatz
Trump—who on almost a daily basis has pushed the misleading claim that the U.S. is ahead of the rest of the world in testing—is "determined to reopen the country," one anonymous adviser to the president told the Washington Post.
"Testing is just not his primary thought," the adviser said.
Trump told governors on a conference call Thursday that states with a "beautifully low" number of coronavirus cases can open more quickly—possibly before May 1—than states with more cases, despite warnings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that lifting social distancing guidelines too swiftly and without adequate protections could result in a rapid resurgence of the virus.
"Let's get your states open and get back to work," Trump said on the call, according to Axios.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, said he was encouraged that Trump's guidelines urge states to reopen at their own pace, but lawmakers and critics raised alarm at the absence of a coordinated, nationwide testing strategy in the new 20-page plan.
"The most disturbing story I've read in a while, which is saying something given the times," MSNBC legal analyst Matthew Miller tweeted late Thursday, linking to a Post article on the new White House guidelines. "There is no plan for testing. Nothing, nada, zilch."
According to the Post, "there is no national testing strategy, but rather a patchwork of programs administered by states with limited federal guidance."
"Trump's the-buck-stops-with-the-states posture is largely designed to shield himself from blame should there be new outbreaks after states reopen or for other problems, according to several current and former senior administration officials involved in the response," the Post reported.
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Following the release of the White House's latest guidelines, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) tweeted that "if you are a straight news reporter it doesn't undermine your neutrality to characterize the failure on testing as a failure."
"It is an objective fact that [the administration] failed to meet any of the metrics set by public health professionals or even their internal goals," said Schatz. "It's a failure."
Where are the tests?
— Brian Schatz (@brianschatz) April 16, 2020
On March 6 they promised 4 million tests by the end of that week. It is April 16, 41 days later, and Trump is announcing 3.5 million tests completed. And they are not even really ramping up. Last weeks number of tests was roughly the same as the week before.
— Brian Schatz (@brianschatz) April 16, 2020
Public health experts—including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert—and business leaders have warned that the U.S. must significantly expand its testing capacity nationwide before reopening to avoid a devastating rebound of Covid-19, which has officially infected more than 667,000 people and killed more than 30,000 in the United States.
"We have to have something in place that is efficient and that we can rely on, and we're not there yet," Fauci told the Associated Press in an interview on Tuesday.
Last week, as Common Dreams reported, Trump dismissed warnings that a functional nationwide testing system must be in place before any attempt to reopen large sectors of the U.S. economy. "We want to have it, and we're going to see if we have it," Trump said at a press briefing. "Do you need it? No. Is it a nice thing to do? Yes."
In a conference call on Wednesday, business leaders told Trump that "expanded testing was necessary before Americans could safely return to work," the Los Angeles Times reported, citing an anonymous person briefed on the call.
"But," according to the Times, "the message was largely drowned out by Trump's determination to solicit praise from the participants."