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Governors call out White House on dearth of coronavirus testing as protests grow

Jaweed Kaleem, Laura King and Richard Read
Los Angeles Times

Washington — Even as President Donald Trump on Sunday continued to tout the nation’s capacity for adequate coronavirus testing, several governors took to the airwaves to vehemently challenge his assessment and to complain that the federal government had been laggardly in helping provide support for health systems and local economies.

President Donald Trump participates in a news briefing with members of the Coronavirus Task Force at the White House.

“I am right on testing,” Trump tweeted Sunday. “Governors must be able to step up and get the job done. We will be with you ALL THE WAY!”

Democratic Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, among others, countered Trump, saying it was “delusional” to believe enough testing was in place to move quickly on easing restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the deadly virus.

“We are fighting a biological war,” Northam said on CNN’s “State of the Union,” adding that governors have been left “to fight that war without the supplies we need.”

“Our president, obviously, has been unable to deliver on tests,” Northam said.

U.S. testing rates for the coronavirus lag behind those of many other countries weathering the pandemic, with several governors and health experts saying the White House has not stepped up to order the production of sufficient supplies of tests, nasal swabs and other necessary materials and has also failed to coordinate a national response.

Dozens of different antibody blood tests are now available, but the majority of them have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, leading to concerns about the reliability of results.

Some elected officials Sunday also continued to question Trump’s recent tweets that appeared to encourage protests against stay-at-home restrictions to prevent spread of the virus.

On Sunday, at least 2,000 people gathered in Olympia, Wash., some waving American flags or carrying rifles.

“Lock Jay up! Lock Jay up!” they chanted, a reference to Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, saying he should be imprisoned for undertaking public health measures that had brought the economy to a halt.

Inslee on Sunday disparaged Trump’s tweets on such protests, echoing fellow critics who say the president’s messaging runs counter to the warnings of his own public health experts that large gatherings can lead to the spread of the coronavirus.

Appearing on ABC’s “This Week,” Inslee said the president’s comments had amounted to fomenting insurrection.

“To have an American president encourage people to violate the law, I can’t remember any time in my time in America where we have seen such a thing,” he said.

New York Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio also had strong words for Trump on Sunday.

“Mr. President, are you going to save New York City or are you telling New York City to drop dead?” he asked, calling on the president to offer more federal help to his city.

Deaths in the U.S. from COVID-19 reached more than 40,000 on Sunday, according to Johns Hopkins University, as confirmed cases grew past 737,000.

The hardest-hit area of the country, New York, reported its sixth straight day in which hospitalizations from the infection dropped.

Still, Gov. Andrew Cuomo warned against celebrating despite believing the state was past the peak of the pandemic.

“The president is right when he gets up there and says the models had many more people dying,” Cuomo said Sunday, adding the state will ramp up “aggressive” antibody testing in the coming weeks. “This is a great success story … (but) don’t go backward.”

On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Vice President Mike Pence suggested states could quickly double their testing capabilities. “We’re doing 150,000 tests a day now,” Pence said. “If states around the country will activate all of the laboratories that are available in their states, we could more than double that overnight.”

But critics have countered that the White House has not made broad use of the Defense Production Act to ensure adequate supplies, and some public health experts have said the country will need to conduct half a million tests a day to ensure a relatively safe wide-scale reopening of the economy.

“I think this is probably the No. 1 problem in America, and has been from the beginning of this crisis – the lack of testing,” Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Hogan said he had “repeatedly made this argument to the leaders in Washington on behalf of the rest of the governors in America.”

Some state executives have pointed out that the federal role is crucial in certain aspects of the testing process. Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, a Republican, said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that states “shouldn’t be making their own decisions.”

“Everything associated with testing has to be approved by the CDC and the FDA, as it should be,” Baker said on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” referring to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration.

Although some states have made small adjustments to stay-at-home orders – beaches in Jacksonville, Fla., are now open for exercise and some parks are reopening in California’s Ventura County – most “nonessential” activities remain closed in the U.S.

In Olympia, Wash., on Sunday, demonstrators, few of whom wore masks or practiced social distancing guidelines, rallied outside the state Capitol.

The rally violated Gov. Inslee’s order prohibiting public gatherings.

Organizers contended that government proclamations concerning the pandemic violated state constitutional rights to peacefully assemble.

“Gov. Inslee has essentially made everybody guilty of having the coronavirus and subjected everyone to house arrest,” said Michael Turner, 27, a Seattle resident who said that a state ban on construction work had cost him his job.

The Washington State Patrol estimated that 2,000 to 2,500 people participated in the demonstration.