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Day After Trump Says Testing Makes 'Ourselves Look Bad,' Harvard Researchers Call for Tripling of Testing as Covid-19 Deaths Surge

"I think what people have to remember is that the virus isn't gone. The disease isn't gone."

Medical workers at Kaiser Permanente French Campus test a patient for the novel coronavirus at a drive-thru testing facility in San Francisco on March 12, 2020.

Medical workers at Kaiser Permanente French Campus test a patient for the novel coronavirus at a drive-thru testing facility in San Francisco on March 12, 2020. (Photo: Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images)

Less than one day after President Donald Trump declared publicly that "by doing all this testing we make ourselves look bad," new research from the Harvard Global Health Institute out Thursday morning reveals that nationwide testing is dangerously behind where it needs to be in order to curb the intensifying Covid-19 pandemic gripping the United States.

The Harvard researchers found that as projections of deaths and infections are reassessed upward, testing in the U.S. remains perilously low—with over three times as many daily tests as are in place today needed to safely reopen the country.

"Just in the last few weeks, all of the models have converged on many more people getting infected and many more people [dying]," Global Health Institute director Ashish Jha told NPR.

The projections for increased infections and fatalities are paired in the analysis with a national testing regime that is woefully under capacity and a White House desperate to get the country back to work for political gain. 

According to Jha, the institute's research projects the U.S. would have to test over 900,000 people a day in order to safely begin reopening the economy and loosen social restrictions. The country as a whole is currently testing 247, 657 people a day. 

"Testing is outbreak control 101, because what testing lets you do is figure out who's infected and who's not," said Jha. "And that lets you separate out the infected people from the non infected people and bring the disease under control."

A Center for American Progress (CAP) analysis Monday found that "no state currently meets both the incidence and testing thresholds estimated for their state; only eight states—Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Montana, Oregon, Vermont, and West Virginia — meet the incidence threshold; and only Rhode Island meets the testing threshold."

CAP Health Policy vice president Topher Spiro said that the lack of testing would have negative ramifications for the country's attempts at economic reopening.

"These estimates suggest that, across the board, states' decisions to relax stay-at-home efforts are premature and risk a substantial second wave and corresponding economic shutdown," said Spiro. "Whether or not a state's economy is legally open, the public will not engage with it unless and until the virus is contained."

On Wednesday, Johns Hopkins University epidemiologist Caitlin Rivers told the House Committee on Appropriations that she believed the country was at a "critical moment of this fight" and that loosening restrictions in the country would be a catastrophic mistake. 

"We risk complacency in accepting the preventable deaths of 2,000 Americans each day, we risk complacency in accepting that our healthcare workers do not have what they need to do their jobs safely, and we risk complacency in recognizing that without continued vigilance we will again create the conditions that led to us being the worst-affected country in the world," said Rivers.

Harvard's Jha told NPR that the country needs to be prepared for a long haul approach to the disease.

"I think what people have to remember is that the virus isn't gone," said Jha. "The disease isn't gone. And it's going to be with us for a while."

Despite repeated warnings of testing capacity and the virus' spread, President Donald Trump has maintained the need to reopen the country and told the New York Times Wednesday that he was disinclined to order more tests because of the message that would send.

"In a way, by doing all this testing we make ourselves look bad," Trump said. 

Harvard Kennedy School Professor Nicholas Burns said that comment was itself disqualifying.

"If he is not prioritizing public health but his electoral prospects, he should be voted out of office on this statement alone," said Burns.

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