As a nationwide shortage of tests continues to hamper the effort to fight the spread of COVID-19, President Trump acknowledged that the way the tests are allocated might favor professional athletes and the “well-connected,” saying, “That’s been the story of life.”
He implied he disapproved of the unfairness but did not suggest a way to ameliorate it.
In an extraordinary exchange during Wednesday’s White House press briefing of the coronavirus task force, NBC News reporter Peter Alexander asked Trump why professional athletes and the “well-connected go to the front of the line” for testing.
Alexander: “How are non-symptomatic professional athletes getting tests while others are waiting in line and can’t get them? Do the well-connected go to the front of the line?”
Trump: “Well, you’d have to ask them that question.”
Alexander: “Should they have?”
Trump: “No. I wouldn’t say so, but perhaps that’s been the story of life. That does happen on occasion, and I’ve noticed where some people have been tested fairly quickly.”
Trump received a test for the coronavirus last week, a procedure he said was “not very nice.” He tested negative, according to the White House.
At the same news conference, Vice President Mike Pence, who said Tuesday that he had not been tested, laid out a testing directive for American citizens.
“People without symptoms should not get tested,” Pence said, citing the importance of keeping tests available for those most in need.
NBA teams have had no hesitation testing their entire rosters, and as of Wednesday, seven players had tested positive for COVID-19. Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant announced Tuesday that he had tested positive for the virus. The Nets said four players altogether had received positive test results, but only one was showing symptoms of the disease. The team did not identify the players.
While the rate of testing for NBA players has been much higher than that of the general public in the U.S. — only 125 people per million had been tested as of Monday — a former official at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said professional athletes should be viewed as potential “super-spreaders,” capable of infecting many others.
The NBA also released a statement explaining the disparity between the testing of its players and that of the general public.
“Public health authorities and team doctors have been concerned that, given NBA players’ direct contact with each other and close interactions with the general public, in addition to their frequent travel, they could accelerate the spread of the virus,” NBA spokesman Mike Bass said in the statement. “Following two players testing positive last week, others were tested and five additional players tested positive. Hopefully, by these players choosing to make their test results public, they have drawn attention to the critical need for young people to follow CDC recommendations in order to protect others, particularly those with underlying health conditions and the elderly.”
The NBA season has been suspended, and no games are being played. The average age of players in the NBA is 26, putting them in what epidemiologists consider a relatively low-risk group for COVID-19.
Trump, who said on Saturday that he had tested negative for the coronavirus, downplayed the need to undergo a test despite having been exposed to several individuals who later tested positive for COVID-19.
On Tuesday, Adm. Brett Giroir, who has been named Trump’s coronavirus testing “czar,” told reporters at the task force briefing that the U.S., which is home to 331 million people, had so far tested 60,000 for COVID-19. In South Korea, a nation of 50 million, 270,000 have so far been tested.
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