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President Trump pushed back on Monday to criticism from governors across the country that the White House must do more to help states with testing for COVID-19 before they can ease up on stay-at-home orders – touting the number of tests already performed and saying that governors are being too dependent on the federal government for help.
“They need to take the support where they can get it,” Trump said of the governors’ pleas. “We’re here to stand with the governors.”
Trump’s messaging during his daily press briefing with the White House coronavirus task force was toned down compared to his recent tweets where he blasted state leaders on Twitter for being too reliant on federal help and accused Democrats of playing “a very dangerous political game” by insisting there is a shortage of tests for the coronavirus.
Vice President Mike Pence spoke with the nation’s governors earlier in the day in an effort to assuage their concerns and assure them government was working around-the-clock to help them ramp up testing. Trump added during the press briefing that after Pence’s call state governors “really get it now, I think.”
The president also boasted of his good relations with both Republican and Democratic governors during the coronavirus pandemic, saying he’s gained “a lot of respect for governors, both Republican and Democratic, throughout this process.”
Trump announced that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, would be visiting the White House on Tuesday to discuss the continued plans to battle the contagion and reopen the country. New York has been the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S, with more 238,000 confirmed cases and over 12,600 deaths in the state alone, according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University.
Despite Trump’s assurances that testing for virus is widespread and that local leaders are happy, many governors have expressed dismay that there is still a lack of easily available testing for the pathogen in their states.
Kansas’s Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly said the current federal effort “really is not good enough if we’re going to be able to start to open our economy. We cannot do that safely without the tests in place.”
In Kansas, officials have said they would like to do 15,500 additional tests to sample the population to determine the prevalence of the coronavirus. Kansas has about half the national testing rate.
Kelly said part of the problem has been caused by how FEMA has gone about distributing testing material and other supplies.
In Ohio, Republican Gov. Mike DeWine said his state is working with another federal agency, the Food and Drug Administration, to find a source of reagent, the chemical used to analyze test results, so it can ramp up testing. “A lot of good things are going on, but we’re not there yet,” DeWine said. “And we’ve got a ways to go.”
Democratic Montana Gov. Steve Bullock said his state received 5,000 nasal swabs on Monday from FEMA — evidence the federal government is listening. But he added: “It doesn’t get us far enough.”
In New York, Cuomo said the states should take the lead on testing but it’s up to the federal government to help sort out supply chain issues facing testing manufacturers.
“What the states will run into is when you talk to those labs … they buy machines and equipment from national manufacturers,” Cuomo said. “And those labs can only run as many tests as the national manufacturers provide them chemicals, reagents and lab kits.”
Pennsylvania’s Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf said, “We need the reagents, we need the test kits and I think that’s the sort of general cry from other states.”
As Pence spoke with the governors, Trump took to Twitter with a more combative tone than his vice president, complaining that the “radical left” and “Do Nothing Democrats” were playing politics with their complaints about a lack of tests.
The president has repeatedly compared governors’ concerns about a lack of screening capacity to earlier complaints that the states did not have enough ventilators to keep up with the federal government’s projections of individuals who would become hospitalized during the virus outbreak.
“Remember when it was all ventilators,” Trump said on Monday. “Now we’re the king of ventilators around the world.”
He added: “Now they say we’ll get him on testing, but testing is much easier than ventilators.”
Public health experts say the country needs to dramatically increase its testing infrastructure if it is going to safely roll back restrictions and reopen businesses without risking a major spike in infections.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert, told ABC’s “Good Morning America” Monday that the country is currently running about 1.5 million to 2 million tests per week. But, “we really need to get up to, at least, you know, maybe two times that, three times that.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.