Trump backtracks after saying U.S. would “very soon” hit 5 million tests a day

On Tuesday when a reporter asked in an East Room event whether the U.S. would surpass 5 million coronavirus tests per day, the president said that’s coming “very soon.” But on Wednesday, the president claimed he never said that, blaming a “media trap.”

The backtracking came as the demand for increased testing continues, and states begin to plot their economic reopening. The president also said the administration’s 30-day “slow the spread” guidelines, which expire Thursday, will be faded out, although Vice President Mike Pence said they would largely be incorporated into guidelines to reopen states. 

Here is the exchange in which the president claims the U.S. will “very soon” be able to test 5 million people a day, according to the official White House transcript:

Reporter: “Did I hear you saying you’re confident you can surpass 5 million tests per day?  Is that —”
 
President Trump: “Oh, well, we’re going to be there very soon.  If you look at the numbers, it could be that we’re getting very close.  I mean, I don’t have the exact numbers.  We would’ve had them if you asked me the same question a little while ago because people with the statistics were there. We’re going to be there very soon.  We’re really — we’re really doing — I mean, I watched your report on NBC today and it was an incorrect report, because we’re really doing a great job on testing…”

The reporter had asked in a previous question whether the U.S. could reach 5 million tests a day, but the president didn’t answer directly.

In the same East Room event, the president also said he believes the virus will “go away,” but the U.S. will also be prepared in the fall if it returns. 

So far, the White House says the U.S. has tested more than 5 million Americans since the beginning of the pandemic. It often takes multiple tests to confirm a case, and then to clear patients after they have recovered from COVID-19. 

On Tuesday, Admiral Brett Giroir, the assistant secretary of health who is the coronavirus testing director, said in an interview with TIME Tuesday, “There is absolutely no way on Earth, on this planet or any other planet, that we can do 20 million tests a day, or even five million tests a day.” By May, Giroir said the U.S. would be testing 8 million per month. 

A Harvard University study recently projected that the nation had to be able “to deliver 5 million tests per day by early June to deliver a safe social reopening,” and further, that it would need to reach 20 million a day by the end of July to “fully remobilize the economy.” Even that number, the study said, “may not be high enough to protect public health.” Giroir told TIME this was an unnecessary and “unreasonable benchmark.” 

The White House has released guidelines for testing as states begin to reopen, but much of the responsibility to execute the roadmap lies with states. Mr. Trump has said the federal government is able to help, but it’s the job of governors to secure tests.