Editorial: Nothing funny in Trump's clueless coronavirus testing comment

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President Donald Trump participates in a roundtable conversation about race relations and policing at Gateway Church Dallas Campus on June 11, 2020, in Dallas. - Smiley N. Pool/Dallas Morning News/TNS

Such a wit. We’re just rolling on the floor with laughter from President Donald Trump’s latest joke.

We’re in the middle of a pandemic. The United States leads the world in coronavirus cases and deaths. The situation is worsening in this country.

And the president, according to his aides, was joking when he told supporters at a rally over the weekend in Oklahoma — a state experiencing a rapidly increasing rate of positive tests — that our country should slow down its testing.

“When you do testing to that extent you’re going to find more people, you’re going to find cases,” Trump said. “So I said to my people, ‘Slow the testing down, please.’”

It’s hard to imagine a more irresponsible statement at such a critical time. Although Trump has stretched the bounds of irresponsibility.

He told us in February the virus would disappear “like a miracle.” He refuses to wear a mask despite his health advisers’ recommendations. He suggested injecting disinfectants to combat COVID-19. He recommended treatment with a malaria drug despite known risks.

Now he’s more concerned with jiggering the testing numbers than saving lives.

It’s not surprising. Rather than provide much-needed leadership, Trump and his administration fumbled testing from the onset of the pandemic. Most countries have a national testing strategy. Trump has left states to fend for themselves.

Without testing, we don’t know who is walking around with the virus, many without showing symptoms, when they should be isolated at home to prevent the spread. Testing and follow-ups with people they were in contact with provides critical information for slowing the disease until we have a vaccine.

But Trump’s self-centered outlook revolves around political optics rather than what’s best for the country, rather than saving lives. To him, more testing means the discovery of more cases — and that, he figures, makes him look bad and hurts his reelection chances.

Actually, it’s Trump’s abject failure to responsibly address the crisis that helps explain his lagging poll numbers.

Trump continues to claim that the United States’ increasing number of cases is because our nation is testing more people per-capita than other countries. That’s false.

Norway, Italy, Chile, Germany, Canada, Estonia, New Zealand, Spain, Australia, Singapore, Qatar, Hong Kong, Russia and Iceland have all tested a larger portion of their populations, according to tracking by John Hopkins University.

Trump also suggests that the nation’s upsurge in positive cases can all be blamed on more testing. That’s also false. Cases are rising at a disturbingly fast rate — and it’s not just due to more testing.

In the past two weeks, the number of daily cases has increased from slightly under 20,000 a day to nearly 30,000. Those numbers, again from John Hopkins University, use a five-day moving average to smooth out blips in the data.

Most significantly, a greater portion of those tested have the virus. From a low of 4.4% just a couple of weeks ago, the national “positivity rate” had increased by Sunday to 5.2% nationwide.

In California, we’re seeing similar data. In one week, the positivity rate for the state jumped from 4.5% to 4.8%, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday. Hospitalization rates have increased 16% over the last 14 days.

Similarly, states such as Kentucky, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota and Georgia have seen marked increases in their positivity rates. And Florida’s has more than doubled in the past couple of weeks.

The data is disturbing. People are dying due to inaction. Once again, we need national leadership. Once again, we’re not getting it. There’s nothing funny about it.

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©2020 The Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)