The Fog of the Pandemic Is Returning

The Fog of the Pandemic Is Returning

  • Millions of coronavirus tests may be happening without their results being made public.

President Donald Trump has never hidden his ambivalence about testing for the coronavirus. In June, when he told an arena of supporters in Tulsa, Oklahoma, that he had instructed “his people” to “‘slow the testing down, please,’” the disclosure prompted one of the more dire news cycles of the pandemic. The president said repeatedly that he wanted the United States to reduce its testing. But in the weeks that followed, testing increased.

Not so now. In the past month, the number of tests conducted in the United States has actually drifted down—and that may be partly because of Trump-administration policy.

The United States now reports about 100,000 fewer daily tests than it did in late July, according to the COVID Tracking Project at The Atlantic. Some of this decline is due to reduced demand: The surge of infections across the South and West has subsided, and when fewer people are sick, fewer people seek out tests. Yet this cannot explain all of it. In the Midwest, the number of confirmed cases is growing faster than the number of tests, which has been a sign of a growing outbreak throughout the pandemic.

The decline in reported tests has come just as other changes have hit the testing system. In recent weeks, the Trump administration has taken unprecedented steps to interfere with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As a result of White House meddling, the CDC now recommends against testing asymptomatic people, the group that may spread the virus the most. At the same time, new antigen-testing technology is rolling out nationwide. While quicker tests in greater numbers should help curb the virus, they are also decentralizing data collection.