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White House Releases Coronavirus Testing Blueprint

Reporters listen to President Trump as he speaks during a news conference on the novel coronavirus in the Rose Garden of the White House Monday.
Mandel Ngan
AFP via Getty Images
Reporters listen to President Trump as he speaks during a news conference on the novel coronavirus in the Rose Garden of the White House Monday.

Updated at 6:45 p.m. ET

The White House released a blueprint for states on coronavirus testing on Monday at a daily news conference it spiked and then revived.

The document presents "key strategic considerations" for states, including their roles, the roles of the federal government and local governments, the private sector and monitoring systems, officials said.

President Trump ultimately presided over what has become a now-familiar briefing in the Rose Garden after a debate within the administration about whether to continue or modify the news conferences.

Earlier on Monday, the White House had scrapped its planned early evening press briefing. That followed a weekend without news conferences, during which the president complained about reporters' questions at the appearances.

While Trump has boasted that the briefings receive high TV ratings, on Saturday he tweeted that they are "Not worth the time & effort," citing reporters' "hostile questions."

The daily briefings have become a mainstay of the administration's public response to the pandemic, but they have also been a lightning rod for controversy.

Trump has faced criticism from opponents about the way he has handled these briefings — spending much of his time sparring with reporters and often contradicting his own medical experts.

Even some of the president's supporters have complained that the briefings detract from the administration's message.

Trump ran into controversy during Thursday's briefing when he asked medical officials to look into using disinfectants or ultraviolet light in humans to fight off the coronavirus.

The president later said he was being sarcastic, but the remarks prompted warnings from disinfectant manufacturers and some government agencies against ingesting dangerous disinfectants.

On Monday, Trump was asked about the cases around the United States in which people have become sick because they ingested household cleaners following his comments last week; "I can't imagine," the president said.

Press secretary Kayleigh McEnany had told Fox News on Monday morning that the sessions may "have a different look" moving forward.

She denied that the administration is cutting back on the news conferences, which often last for more than two hours.

"We're looking at different ways to showcase this president leading. The briefing is a key component of that," she said.

Monday's briefing ultimately proved to be another standard outing for the president and his guests.

Assurances on testing

Trump invited a number of Big Business leaders to address the news conference on Monday to tout the progress they said they were making on COVID-19 testing, which is seen as crucial to normalization but also a major bottleneck.

Public health authorities, including one top doctor advising Trump, have said the United States must scale up its capacity to test by many orders of magnitude in order to permit millions of Americans to reemerge from social isolation without the risk of a big boomerang spike in infections.

Trump, the CEOs and Vice President Mike Pence said the United States is doing more testing than any other nation but it still isn't clear precisely when the throughput needed for big states or big metro areas may be available.

Pence said on Monday that he thinks there's enough testing throughput today for the small number of states with comparatively small infected populations to be able to proceed through the "gates" recommended in the administration's guidelines.

In many of the examples cited in Monday's briefing, however, the end states described as the current goals for the companies might not arrive until the end of next month.

The federal social distancing guidelines issued by Trump that counsel people to stay home, avoid large groups and take other precautions are set to expire on Friday, but Trump hasn't ruled out the need to extend them.

Tamara Keith contributed to this report.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.


Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
Philip Ewing is an election security editor with NPR's Washington Desk. He helps oversee coverage of election security, voting, disinformation, active measures and other issues. Ewing joined the Washington Desk from his previous role as NPR's national security editor, in which he helped direct coverage of the military, intelligence community, counterterrorism, veterans and more. He came to NPR in 2015 from Politico, where he was a Pentagon correspondent and defense editor. Previously, he served as managing editor of Military.com, and before that he covered the U.S. Navy for the Military Times newspapers.