Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, criticized the Trump administration during a Senate hearing Tuesday for its rosy portrayal of coronavirus testing in the U.S. since the start of the pandemic.
Romney addressed his remarks to Dr. Brett Giroir, assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services, who took part in a White House event Monday that was devoted to its coronavirus response.
“Yesterday you celebrated that we had done more tests and more tests per capita even than South Korea,” Romney said. “You ignored the fact that they accomplished theirs at the beginning of the outbreak, while we treaded water during February and March. I find our testing record nothing to celebrate whatsoever.”
He said that while the U.S. had indeed ramped up testing for coronavirus, it was not sufficient in the early stages of the outbreak. Romney, who has often clashed with the president and voted for his removal from office in the Senate impeachment trial earlier this year, also noted that by March 6, the U.S. had conducted only 2,000 tests while South Korea had completed 140,000. Romney added that this early testing explains why just 258 people as of Tuesday had so far been killed by COVID-19 in South Korea as opposed to more than 80,000 in the U.S.
During Monday’s press briefing at the White House, banners were hung that read “America Leads the World in Testing,” and Trump boasted that the U.S. has tested “far more” people than any other country. He also repeated a claim that any American who “wants” to be tested for coronavirus can have a test, even though that isn’t the case for most Americans.
Giroir, who heads the coronavirus response for HHS, clarified Monday that anyone who meets the criteria for being tested and “needs” a test can have one.
South Korea and the U.S. both detected their first cases of the coronavirus on Jan. 20. While South Korea ramped up testing and contact tracing, the Trump administration spent weeks downplaying the virus, and the president stated that he wanted less testing because higher numbers would make him look bad.
Politico reported that the president discouraged widespread testing for the virus to keep the number of confirmed infections low. Trump said as much on March 6 when he discussed keeping sick people on a cruise ship off the coast of California because he didn’t want them counted in the U.S. total.
“I would rather because I like the numbers being where they are,” Trump said. “I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship that wasn’t our fault. And it wasn’t the fault of the people on the ship either, OK? It wasn’t their fault either, and they’re mostly Americans. So, I can live either way with it. I’d rather have them stay on, personally.”
Following Romney’s vote on impeachment, Trump made him the only Republican senator not to receive an invitation to join his coronavirus advisory group.
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