Pence Explains the Failure to Meet Testing Goals in a Supremely Unhelpful Way

President Trump stands behind Vice President Pence at a podium outdoors in the White House Rose Garden.

Vice President Pence answers questions during Monday's daily briefing from the coronavirus task force.Win McNamee/Getty

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During Monday’s White House press briefing on coronavirus, a reporter asked Vice President Pence to explain the discrepancy between the number of tests he’d promised would be available mid-March—4 million—and the number of tests that were actually done by that time, a much lower figure. The United States did not reach its goal of conducting 4 million tests until April 20. (By contrast, a plan developed by a Nobel Prize–winning economist and a former FDA chief suggests the US should be testing 3 million people per week before re-opening even parts of the economy.)

Pence responded by claiming 4 million tests were conducted by early April, but a lag in processing the tests made the numbers seem lower. 

“So when you said 4 million tests, you were talking about tests being sent out, not actually completed?” asked the reporter.

“Precisely correct,” said Pence. 

The spin continued throughout the press conference. The briefing began with the leaders of CVS, Walgreens, and Rite-Aid taking the podium to reflect on the ways in which the private sector has stepped up to fight the virus. Yet it’s been more than six weeks since Trump brought these same company heads to a press conference to promise that they would scale up drive-through testing across country to meet the massive demand. Today, only 43 sites are operating in less than two dozen states, according to CNBC.

And more promises were made: President Trump today claimed that private sector partnerships would deliver more than 8 million tests in May. CVS promised 1,000 testing sites across the US by that time. Trump said by then we’ll be doing 100,000 tests per day. 

Whatever justifies re-opening the states and putting people back to work. “We want them all to do it as quickly as possible,” said Trump.

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THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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