As our nation is approaching election season, it has been noted that “fake news”, or in other words- propaganda, has been circulating. In yet another attempt to win the senior vote, Trump has been caught misleading the people by belittling the COVID-19 pandemic.
“If you don’t test, you don’t have any cases. If we stopped testing right now, we’d have very few cases, if any,” President Donald Trump, in remarks during a June 15 roundtable discussion.
This is the statement that has Americans questioning the legitimacy of our government’s response to the ongoing coronavirus. It has become the talking point for the Trump Administration and their excuse for America’s skyrocketing COVID-19 cases.
Vice President Mike Pence also reiterated this rehearsed sentiment during a phone call to Republican governors, recommending that they use the argument as a strategy to quiet public concern about surging case tallies in some states.
Trump has also tweeted on several occasions denying the severity of the pandemic.
Our testing is so much bigger and more advanced than any other country (we have done a great job on this!) that it shows more cases. Without testing, or weak testing, we would be showing almost no cases. Testing is a double edged sword – Makes us look bad, but good to have!!!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 15, 2020
President Trump’s argument is that the United States is seeing more cases of COVID-19 because of the level and amount of testing our country is using. Essentially, he is saying that our increased testing makes it appear the pandemic is worse in the U.S. than in other countries.
“We will show more — more cases when other countries have far more cases than we do; they just don’t talk about it,” stated Trump.
Science proves otherwise
The numbers say otherwise. As of Thursday, June 18, the U.S. has had confirmed cases 2,164,497 and 117,783 deaths. These numbers account for about a quarter of the global total and more than any other single country. In regards to Trump’s point, the country is testing more now than it did at the start of the outbreak.
Per capita, the U.S. is in the top 20 percent of countries when it comes to cumulative tests run.
This enhanced testing still comes with flaws as an undercount in cases has been proven. The problem is that the U.S. outbreak is worse than that of many other countries, so we need to be testing a higher percentage of our population than do others.
The break down
Consider the number of tests necessary to identify a positive case. If it’s easier to find a positive case, that suggests the virus has spread further and more testing is necessary to track the spread of COVID-19.
For example, statistics from the U.S. and the United Kingdom are fairly similar in terms of how many coronavirus tests are done daily per million people. But those tests yield far more positive cases in the United States. That suggests the outbreak here requires more per capita testing than does the U.K.’s.
“We have a much bigger epidemic, so you have to test more proportionately,” said Jennifer Kates, senior vice president at Kaiser Family Foundation.
This means that even after controlling for population size — the United States will have to test more people to find out where and how the virus has spread.
And while the U.S. has extensively increased testing since March, it is still not enough. Many parts of the country still do not have sufficient systems in place, from facilities to staff to medical supplies.
What if we stopped testing?
Healthcare experts have ruled Trump’s assertion of, “if we stopped testing right now, we’d have very few cases” or none at all?” as completely absurd.
“The implication that not testing makes the problem go away is completely false. It could not be more false,” said Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, vice dean for public health practice and community engagement at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore.
But even if you take it figuratively, the idea that our expanded testing resources have inflated our sense of the seriousness or urgency of this epidemic, which is incredibly misleading to the public and is why it is considered propaganda.
“We’re seeing a lot of cases because we’re testing? It just doesn’t ring true,” Kates said. “The U.S. has made a lot of progress for sure. But that job is not finished.”
“The president’s claim is part of a larger reelection strategy,” argued Robert Blendon, a health care pollster at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The idea is to suggest that the health crisis is mostly exaggerated and that things are getting better, so that Americans feel comfortable going back to work, boost the economy, and most importantly vote for Trump. This is yet another tactic Trump is using to win over the senior vote, as the support dwindles.
“If the economy takes off, the president has a chance of reelection,” Blendon said. “If it contracts as a result of expansion of cases, and the only way we know how to respond is restriction of economic activity, he’s gone.”
But the problem, Blendon added, is that COVID-19 counts are still climbing in multiple states. And people are continuing to die of the virus. Diagnostic testing isn’t the only data source to reveal the pandemic’s existence. Let’s not forget about hospitalization rates and death counts. The number of deaths continues to rise, and hospitalizations are higher than they would be in the virus’s absence.
The reality of the pandemic
The president’s claim has no merit and seriously misrepresents the severity of the public health crisis.
Trump argued that the nation’s high count of COVID-19 cases is simply a result of our expanded testing capacity- this is incorrect. The most current data suggests that the U.S. is, in fact, not testing enough to match the severity of the pandemic.
Testing does not create the virus. Even without proper testing, COVID-19 would still be as serious and infectious. We would simply just know less about it. Eliminating testing would completely alter the public’s perception of the pandemic but it wouldn’t conceal it. The only upperhand that we have received from this pandemic is the knowledge that has come with testing.