President Donald Trump has repeatedly blamed testing as the reason for documented spikes in the number of COVID-19 cases across the U.S. — but data and public health experts attribute the surge to the easing of lockdown restrictions just weeks ago.
“By the way, when you do more testing, you have more cases. We have more cases than anybody because we do more testing than anybody. It’s pretty simple,” Trump said Friday in the White House Rose Garden.
“Remember this: When you have more tests, you have more cases. I say to my people: Every time we test, you find cases because we do more testing. So if we have more cases — if we wanted to do testing in China or in India or other places, I promise you, there’d be more cases,” he added.
COVID-19 cases are on the rise in 21 states, according to data compiled by The New York Times. There is some indication that expanded testing is catching more cases, but public health experts say that in reality, the surges are due to states’ reopening and people’s relaxing their social distancing protocols.
“The surge numbers are real,” said Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of the Columbia University National Center for Disaster Preparedness, who is a public health analyst for NBC News and MSNBC.
He said more testing will inevitably capture more positive tests, “but to deny the fact that we’re having an ongoing pandemic with continued spread is contrary to all evidence that we have and everything that we know about the behavior of the virus.”
“The data that I’ve seen from Verizon and even Apple and Google suggest that people are moving a lot in states like California and Arizona and North Carolina, and those happen to be three of the six states where you’re seeing the biggest spike of cases,” he told NBC News.
Those three states all began reopening more than two weeks ago.
In North Carolina, reopening began May 8, and COVID-19 infections have been rising steadily since, according to state data. Deaths also surged in late May after a steady decline since an initial peak of the seven-day average death toll in late April. Hospitalizations hit a record Tuesday, with 774 people in the hospital. Just 17 percent of intensive care beds are available, the state said.
In Arizona, stay-at-home orders ended May 15, and a clear surge in the number of confirmed cases began 10 days later. The hospitalization rate has more than doubled, according to Covidtracking.com.
California began its regional reopening in early May, and it has reported record new case numbers repeatedly in recent days.
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Gupta and Redlener said the existing data are likely an undercount.
“A consistently high positive rate suggests alternately the virus is endemic in the United States — infecting far more people than we know — or there isn’t enough testing,” Gupta said.
Both experts said protests will likely add to the surges 10 to 14 days from exposure.