Saturday, June 20, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He explicitly said he'd ordered a reduction in COVID-19 tests.

Much of the attention on Trump's rally tonight has been on the attendance, which was far lower than expected, in spite of his claims that more than a million people had requested tickets. (Only about 6,200 people attended the rally in the 19,000-person arena, and the overflow area outside was dismantled because there was nobody in it.)

The turnout clearly got under Trump's skin, and he began his speech by making excuses for the turnout. His campaign falsely blamed protestors and "the media," but the protests around the rally were peaceful, and Tulsa police reported only one arrest before the event got underway.

Trump's anger aside, the sparse crowd is almost certainly good news for Oklahoma. Public health experts were horrified by the prospect of a huge indoor rally during an increasingly severe pandemic serving as a "superspreader event." Smaller crowds with more room to spread out will mitigate the damage to some extent. 

Six Trump staff members who had been working in Tulsa in the past week tested positive before the event itself, and the campaign would not confirm that everyone working the event had been tested. 

On the subject of testing, Trump made an astonishingly damning confession: that he had tried to suppress testing because it was finding people with the disease, which looks bad. Confusingly, he then imagined a situation where a child with a cold was falsely counted as a coronavirus case—which wouldn't happen if a test was given.

Testing is a double-edged sword. We've tested now 25 million people. It's probably 20 million people more than anyone else, Germany's done a lot, uh, South Korea's done a lot.

(Trump is partially correct here, but for a bad reason. The United States has done vastly more tests than South Korea, for example, because South Korea successfully controlled its outbreak at the very start, and now only tests as part of its enormously successful contact tracing program. The United States has no effective nationwide contact tracing program, because Trump insists it's not really his job. So in the United States, testing is still mostly done on people who are actively sick.)

They called me, they said, the job you're doing—here's the bad part. When you test the—when you do testing to that extent, you're going to find more people, you're going to find more cases.  
So I said to my people, "Slow the testing down, please." They test and they test and we got people, they don't know what's going on. We got tests, "We got another one over here." The young man's ten years old, he's got the sniffles, he'll recover in about fifteen minutes. "That's a case! Add him to it, that's a case."

Trump admitted recently that he views the political damage that positive tests do against the benefits of allowing people to get medical treatment. And even though his administration's own plan calls for a massive increase in testing, Trump himself has never really seemed to understand why they're necessary.

Tonight's rally is the first time he's openly admitted that he's actively working against Americans getting tested. A spokesperson later claimed Trump was "obviously joking," but it didn't seem obvious to the audience.

Why should I care about this?

  • Americans getting access to medical care during a disease outbreak is more important than Donald Trump's political needs.
  • "He was only joking" can't always be the way you explain away what a president says.