Slate is making its coronavirus coverage free for all readers. Subscribe to support our journalism. Start your free trial.
Governors are pushing back against claims by the White House that there is enough COVID-19 testing going on to begin lifting restrictions in their states. In fact, a shortage of tests is among the main reasons restrictions cannot be lifted, the governors said. “That’s just delusional to be making statements like that,” Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said on CNN’s State of the Union. “We have been fighting every day for PPE. And we have got some supplies now coming in. We have been fighting for testing. It’s not a—it’s not a straightforward test. We don’t even have enough swabs, believe it or not. And we’re ramping that up. But for the national level to say that we have what we need, and really to have no guidance to the state levels, is just irresponsible, because we’re not there yet.”
Northam is a Democrat, but the objection to the White House’s view of the current situation did not explicitly split along party lines. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, wasn’t as direct in his criticism, but he still contradicted the administration’s assertion on tests. “The administration, I think, is trying to ramp up testing. They are doing some things with respect to private labs,” Hogan said. “But to try and push this off to say that the governors have plenty of testing and they should just get to work on testing—somehow we aren’t doing our job—is just absolutely false.” Hogan also insisted that governors have been pushing for more resources for a long time, saying they have been “fighting and clawing to get more tests.”
In an interview with Fox News Sunday, Vice President Mike Pence said that there are approximately 150,000 tests being conducted daily throughout the United States. He was optimistic that number could double with the assistance of governors if they activate all labs in their states. But that would still be far less than the 500,000 to 700,000 daily tests that would be needed for the country to reopen by mid-May, according to Harvard University researchers. Pence disagrees with those estimates and says that having “roughly 300,000” tests a day and monitoring vulnerable populations would be effective.
Governors insisted that if tests are to be ramped up, they’re going to need more supplies as well as regulatory help. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, said that testing could quickly increase if the federal government worked together with states. He “could probably double, maybe even triple testing in Ohio virtually overnight if the FDA would prioritize companies that are putting a slightly different formula together for the extraction reagent kit,” DeWine said on NBC’s Meet the Press. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, said her state could “double or triple the number of tests we are doing, but we need some of the supplies.”
The governors were responding to claims by Pence on Friday that “we have a sufficient amount of testing to meet the requirements of phase one reopening if state governors choose to do that.” They were also pushing back against criticism from Trump himself, who had gone as far as to say that some governors have taken lockdown measures too far. “I really believe that they’re being unreasonable,” Trump said at a White House briefing Saturday. A day earlier the president had tweeted that Minnesota, Michigan, and Virginia should be “liberated” in what was seen as a message of support to the small groups of protesters who had gathered across the country demanding an end to lockdown orders. “There are a lot of protests out there,” Trump said. “And I just think that some of the governors have gotten carried away.”
The White House tried to deflect the criticism about testing, insisting it did not need to be so widespread before economies can start to reopen. Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said testing is only part of the solution to reopen economies across the country and too much testing could also be a problem. “What we’re trying to do is look at this in a very data-driven, granular scientific methodologies to predict community by community the testing that is needed,” Birx said on CBS’ Face the Nation. “At the same time, working with every laboratory director across the country that have these multiple platforms to really understand and find solutions for them on their issues related to supplies.”