Contradicting remarks by President Donald Trump, a top Oklahoma official said Saturday night that the state has not been instructed by the White House to ease up on COVID-19 testing.
Oklahoma Chief Operating Officer John Budd told Oklahoma Watch that state leaders have never been instructed to cut down on testing for coronavirus infections – something Gov. Kevin Stitt and health experts have said is a critical component of stopping the spread of the deadly virus.
“I can say unequivocally that COVID-19 testing is not being throttled in Oklahoma,” Budd said. “Nor have we ever gotten any direction to do so from outside the state.”
Budd’s comments came after Trump told a Tulsa crowd at his campaign rally that he had instructed “his people” to slow down testing because it was resulting in higher reported cases.
During a wide-ranging speech lasting an hour and 45 minutes, Trump said the United States, and him personally, have done a “phenomenal job” in curtailing the coronavirus, which has killed nearly 120,000 Americans since early spring.
In response to a surge of new cases, including in Oklahoma with a record number of cases this week, Trump called testing a “double-edged sword” and said that increased testing was a main contributor to the recent spike.
“Here’s the bad part when you test, of when you do testing to that extent, you’re going to find more people, you’re going to find more cases,” Trump said. “So I said to my people, ‘Slow the testing down, please.’”
Oklahoma’s testing has increased throughout the spring, although the number of tests peaked in mid-May.
Dale Bratzler, an infectious disease expert and the University of Oklahoma’s chief COVID-19 officer, told the Norman Transcript this week that Oklahoma’s recent increase, including a record 410 cases recorded Thursday, is not due to increased testing.
Trump’s statement also contrasts with what health officials and state leaders have said over months.
Stitt, who welcomed Trump to Tulsa and attended the rally, has repeatedly talked about the importance of testing and called on Oklahomans to get tested if they are sick, think they’ve been exposed or are worried. The state has also made it a priority over the past month to expand testing to nursing homes, where more than 108 have died from the virus.
“The best way to slow the curve and stop the spread of COVID-19 is through aggressive testing and tracing, as well as continuing to practice social distancing,” Stitt said in April.
Trump has previously blamed increased testing for the steep climb in cases across much of the southern and central United States in the past couple weeks.
In an interview published earlier this week in the Wall Street Journal, Trump said, “I personally think testing is overrated,” adding that testing has led to a rise in confirmed coronavirus cases that “in many ways, it makes us look bad.”
Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh told Oklahoma Watch in an emailed statement Sunday morning that the president “was clearly making a joke about media coverage and making the point that more testing means finding more cases of the virus.”
There, however, is no evidence that the president’s comment Saturday, as well as his previous ones, were made in jest.
Murtaugh added that the “United States is the world leader in coronavirus testing and has conducted over 25 million tests.”
Information compiled by Our World in Data, a nonprofit that is tracking COVID-19 testing, shows the United States is among the countries who have tested the most on a per capita basis. But 13 other countries, including Italy, Portugal and Singapore, have been testing at a higher rate.
Note: This story was updated on 10:50 a.m. Sunday to include comments from President Donald Trump’ s campaign spokesman.