President Donald Trump said coronavirus "testing is not going to be a problem" at a Monday afternoon press conference to announce a plan that describes the federal government as the "supplier of last resort."
Many political, business and health leaders, including Trump's advisers, say expanded testing is necessary to enable people to safely go back to work and gather in public amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
For now, about 150,000 tests a day are occurring throughout the country, and several times that amount are necessary, experts say.
Trump claimed that testing capacity will more than double "very shortly," without offering specific timing. In March, he erroneously claimed that anyone who wanted a test could get it.
About 5 million people have been tested in the U.S., less than 2% of the population and far fewer per capita than countries such as Germany, New Zealand, France, Spain and even Greenland.
Pressure is growing to boost testing capacity as more states begin to reopen their economies. On Monday, Trump's Attorney General, William Barr, directed U.S. prosecutors to investigate states which may be too restrictive in their lockdowns, according to published reports. Trump expressed agreement with the move. "Some states are perhaps a little early and some perhaps a little late," Trump said.
Trump expressed optimism that the U.S. economy will bounce back quickly from the massive layoffs that have seen more than 25 million Americans file for unemployment since mid-March, when states first began imposing shelter-in-place orders. "I think we’re going to have a phenomenal third quarter...,An incredible fourth quarter and an incredible next year."
Among the obstacles blocking more testing is a shortage of swabs to collect samples and a shortage of chemical media to carry them to labs.
Nobel laureate economist Paul Romer called for the government to test everyone in the nation once every two weeks. That would cost $100 billion, he estimates.
“I’m on the optimistic end of how quickly we can scale testing up,” Romer told the Washington Post. “I do think there’s a way most people could feel safe returning to what feels like normal life this summer if we do this wide-scale testing.”
To be sure, it may not be possible to move as quickly as we want on testing, says Avik Roy, president of the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity.
“We’ve taken for granted that our ingenuity can solve almost any problem,” he wrote in The Wall Street Journal on Saturday. “But what if, in this case, it can’t? What if we can’t scale up coronavirus testing as quickly as we need to?”