By Steve Holland and Andrea Shalal
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump, under fire over his handling of the coronavirus epidemic, announced on Monday the federal government would ship 150 million rapid tests to U.S. states and warned an increase in positive cases is likely in the days ahead.
Trump, at a Rose Garden event, said the tests would largely be used for opening schools and ensuring safety at centers for senior citizens. He has been pressuring state governors to do more to open schools for in-person learning.
Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and virus adviser Scott Atlas warned more positive cases may result from stepped up testing.
“With cases and positivity rising in 10 states in the Midwest and the near-West, and with this historic advance in testing that’s being distributed … the American people should anticipate that cases will rise in the days ahead,” Pence said.
The president has repeatedly suggested that more testing leads to more cases, when in fact testing uncovers cases that already exist. Other metrics like increased hospitalizations and deaths have no link to more testing.
The United States has the world’s highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases at more than 7 million and the most coronavirus-related deaths, approaching 205,000.
Coronavirus task force members Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Deborah Birx and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield were not at the event.
Two weeks ago Trump was irked when Redfield said in congressional testimony that wearing a mask may be just as important as a vaccine.
Trump said 50 million tests will go to the “most vulnerable communities” including nursing homes, assisted living facilities, home health and hospice care. Nearly 1 million will be sent to historically Black colleges and universities and tribal nation colleges.
He said 100 million tests would be given to states and territories to “support efforts to reopen their economies and schools immediately and (as) fast as they can.”
“The support my administration is providing would allow every state on a very regular basis test every teacher who needs it,” Trump said.
He said 6.5 million tests will go out this week and the rest in coming weeks.
Trump is trying to show progress in the battle against the pandemic as he campaigns for re-election on Nov. 3 against Democrat Joe Biden. The first presidential debate will be held on Tuesday night in Cleveland, Ohio.
The rapid tests announced by Trump were purchased from Abbott Laboratories <ABT.N> in August.
Abbott has said it would scale production capacity to 50 million tests per month by October, and that it could currently produce “tens of millions” of the tests, indicating it will take at least a few months for the tests to be fully distributed to states and territories.
Admiral Brett Giroir, who heads testing efforts for Trump’s coronavirus task force, demonstrated at the event how to conduct the Abbott rapid test, swabbing his nasal passages and dipping the swab into a solution. Results are produced in about 15 minutes.
(Reporting By Steve Holland, Carl O’Donnell and Andrea Shalal; Editing by David Gregorio and Bill Berkrot)