Trump Suggests Lack of Testing Is No Longer a Problem. Governors Disagree.

WASHINGTON — President Trump told governors on a conference call on Monday that he had not “heard about testing in weeks,” suggesting that a chronic lack of kits to screen people for the coronavirus was no longer a problem.

But governors painted a different picture on the ground.

Gov. Steve Bullock of Montana, a Democrat, said that officials in his state were trying to do “contact tracing” — tracking down people who have come into contact with those who have tested positive — but that they were struggling because “we don’t have adequate tests,” according to an audio recording of the conversation obtained by The New York Times.

“Literally we are one day away, if we don’t get test kits from the C.D.C., that we wouldn’t be able to do testing in Montana,” Mr. Bullock said.

The midday call was one of a handful that Mr. Trump has held with governors, some of whom have sparred with the president over the federal government’s response to the spread of the coronavirus. Others have calculated that it will be easier to get the needs of their states fulfilled by praising Mr. Trump, who seeks credit and affirmation in most interactions.

On the Monday call, Mr. Bullock — whose state is heavily rural — tried to stress the disparity Montana faces in trying to mitigate the spread of the virus because of the lack of testing.

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transcript

Listen to the Call: Bullock and Trump Discuss Testing

Gov. Steve Bullock of Montana discussed the difficulty of getting access to coronavirus tests on a conference call with President Trump and other governors.

“Literally, we are one day away if we don’t get test kits from the C.D.C. Then we wouldn’t be able to be tested in Montana. We have gone, time and time again, to the private side of this. The private market, in where the private market is telling us that it’s a national resource that are then taking our orders apart. Basically, we’re getting our orders canceled. And that’s for PPE. That’s for testing supplies. That’s for testing equipment. So, while we’re trying to do all the contact tracing, we don’t have adequate tests to necessarily do it. We don’t have the [inaudible] along the way, and we’re not finding markets to be able to do that. Along the way are private suppliers. So we do have to rely on a national chain of distribution or we’re not going to get it. But we are doing our best to try to do exactly that. Like, Gallatin County would be an example where we have almost half of our overall state’s — those are the positives. We’re trying to shift the supply to really isolate that and do the contact tracing, but we just don’t have enough supplies to even do the testing.” “Right. Tony, uh, you can answer it if you want, but I haven’t heard about testing in weeks. We’ve tested more now than any nation in the world. We’ve got these great tests, and we come out with another one tomorrow where, you know, it’s almost instantaneous testing. But I haven’t heard about testing being a problem.”

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Gov. Steve Bullock of Montana discussed the difficulty of getting access to coronavirus tests on a conference call with President Trump and other governors.

Mr. Trump initially said that Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, could respond to the question, but then quickly offered a rejoinder. “I haven’t heard about testing in weeks,” the president said. “We’ve tested more now than any nation in the world. We’ve got these great tests and we’re coming out with a faster one this week.” Reiterating his point, Mr. Trump added, “I haven’t heard about testing being a problem.”


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Many people who have symptoms of the virus are still finding it difficult to be tested, and many who have been tested are waiting more than a week to get results. The failures of the federal government to adequately develop testing supplies for the contagion have been well documented by The New York Times and other news outlets, reports that have rankled Mr. Trump.

Although testing has picked up since a series of setbacks left the United States behind, governors have continued to warn in recent days that their response is still hampered by shortages, including of basic supplies like swabs. Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington, a Democrat, told CNN on Sunday that “we have a desperate need for the testing kits.” And Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia, also a Democrat, warned last week that there was a shortage of testing materials in his state.

The president has recently taken to pointing to the volume of tests that have been administered — a misleading figure because, according to health experts, the more relevant figure is how many people are being tested per capita. In that regard, the United States still lags well behind other nations like South Korea.

Other governors also made it clear to Mr. Trump that they needed more supplies, if somewhat more delicately. Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina, a Democrat, told Mr. Trump: “As much as you can send us is very much appreciated.”

That prompted the president to note that “we have a lot of planes coming in” and that “Boeing gave us their big, monster cargo plane; it’s the biggest cargo plane in the world.”

At another point in the call, when someone asked if the governor of Utah was on the line, Mr. Trump cracked that he was probably visiting Mitt Romney, the state’s junior senator who has been in quarantine after coming into contact with Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, who tested positive for the coronavirus.

A White House spokesman, Hogan Gidley, described the call this way: “The governors praised President Trump’s leadership, assistance and quick action to address this national crisis, and the president told the governors he would make sure that whatever they may need, he would direct his team to provide.”

And at the daily White House briefing on Monday afternoon, Mr. Trump described the call as an opportunity for the governors to thank his administration.

“I think for the most part, they were saying, Thank you for doing a great job,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mr. Inslee said on Monday that he was shocked to hear the president convey a lack of awareness about testing concerns and that he was hopeful the president would look into the issue.

“It would be shocking to me that if anyone who has had access to any newspaper, radio, social networks or any other communication would not be knowledgeable about the need for test kits,” Mr. Inslee said. “I can be assured that the White House knows very well about this desperate need for test kits.”

Mr. Inslee said his state was facing a “dire” shortage of kits, leaving a choke point in an effort to ramp up testing. He described how, in one case, workers at the state’s Health Department had to drive hours across Washington to pick up kits and bring them to the city of Yakima to help test during an outbreak there.

The state is looking everywhere it can to find test kits, Mr. Inslee said, but he would like to see the federal government order businesses around the country to manufacture them to help states get the supplies they need.

“This could really use federal leadership to get this job done,” Mr. Inslee said.

While Washington has conducted tens of thousands of tests thus far, perhaps the most per capita behind New York, Mr. Inslee said officials needed much more to help guide decisions and containment strategies.

Jonathan Martin reported from Washington, Maggie Haberman from New York and Mike Baker from Seattle.

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