After repeated setbacks, President Donald Trump on Monday insisted the U.S. would dramatically expand testing for the coronavirus in May and pave the way for states to start reopening their economies.
The U.S. has conducted nearly 5.5 million test so far, but medical experts say far more are needed to get a better sense of how many people have been exposed to the virus.
Without more testing and faster results, they say, it would be premature to start loosening restrictions that have slowed the spread of COVID-19. Nearly 1 million Americans have contracted the disease and more than 53,000 have died.
Brett Giroir, the assistant secretary of health in the Trump administration, said at the president’s daily press briefing that testing would more than double in May from approximately 4 million in April, when a host of snafus plagued the states and federal government.
“We want to get our country open. Testing is not going to be a problem at all,” Trump vowed Monday as the White House unveiled new guidelines for an economic reopening.
Earlier in the afternoon, the president gathered top leaders of testing companies, drug-store chains and retailers such as WalMart WMT, -0.88% to discuss efforts to ramp-up testing in May. CVS CVS, +1.91% and other pharmacies said they will open more drive-through sites and make results more speedily available.
Executives at the news conference made similar promises a month ago at another White House event, but they do appear to have made substantial progress in scaling up testing and diagnosis capabilities since then.
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As testing expands, the White House said it would work with the states to increase contract tracing to try to isolate future outbreaks and prevent them from spreading. Senior health officials also said they would seek to protect nursing homes and other locations that have proven to show more vulnerability to viral outbreaks.
Trump did not say whether he would continue to hold the daily briefings. He had initially canceled the Monday event before rescheduling it.
The president has taken a lot of criticism after controversial remarks last week, when he appeared to suggest that doctors consider injecting disinfectants into the body of patients to kill the virus.
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The potentially improper use of disinfectants spurred companies such as Clorox CLX, -0.83% to warn customers against ingesting them. Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland said the state’s emergency health hotline saw a surge in the number of callers asking if it was OK to inject cleaning products.
“I can’t imagine why” people would swallow disinfectants, Trump said at his briefing Monday. Asked if he bore responsibility, Trump said, “No, I don’t.”
Looking ahead, Trump again predicted the U.S. would make a strong recovery in the second half of the year even as the economy verges on the biggest contraction in growth since the Great Depression almost 100 years ago.
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Most economists think the U.S. in due for a deep recession from which it will take a few years to recover.