‘Badge of honor’: Trump now says high number of U.S. coronavirus cases is a tribute to testing progress

Caitlin Oprysko

President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that he viewed the number of U.S. cases of coronavirus — the highest in the world — as a “badge of honor” because the still-increasing figure is a reflection of the country’s testing capacity.

Trump offered his take on the grim numbers unprompted, when asked by a reporter at the White House whether the administration was weighing restrictions on travel from Brazil. The reporter noted that according to Johns Hopkins University, Brazil, now ranks behind only the U.S. and Russia in total number of coronavirus infections per country.

“By the way, you know, when you say that we lead in cases, that’s because we have more testing than anybody else,” the president said during a Cabinet meeting. Trump claimed that thus far, the U.S. had conducted nearly 14 million tests, a roughly 2 million-test difference from the latest figures according to the COVID Tracking Project.

Trump reasoned that, along with the increasing number of tests performed in the U.S., the country’s population also factored in to more than 1.5 million Americans testing positive for Covid-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus. On top of that, Trump complained, that figure also includes asymptomatic cases rather than just the most debilitating ones. More than 91,000 Americans have died from the virus.

“When we have a lot of cases, I don’t look at that as a bad thing,” the president said. “I look at that in a certain respect as being a good thing, because it means our testing is much better. So, if we were testing a million people instead of 14 million people, it would have far few cases, right?”

“So, I view it as a badge of honor. Really, it’s a badge of honor,” he concluded. “It’s a great tribute to the testing and all of the work that a lot of professionals have done.”

The Trump administration has repeatedly sought to spin its early failures on access to coronavirus testing throughout the country. Testing has ramped up immensely over the past month as public-health experts emphasized the importance of a robust testing operation to any eventual reopening of the country, and last week the White House held an event in the Rose Garden to boast that America now “leads the world in testing.”

But the early days of the outbreak were hampered by faulty tests distributed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as an inefficient lab operation. Then came complaints of shortages for crucial supplies for conducting and running the tests, and comparisons to the testing operations of other countries like South Korea, which quickly got a handle on its initial outbreak.

Experts have linked the administration’s testing stumbles in part with allowing the virus to spread undetected and unchecked throughout the country long before state leaders began instituting virus-related shutdowns.

Even today, with testing access dramatically expanded, Trump’s pledge from early March that any American who “wants a test can get a test” has still not been met, a vow the administration revised last week.

From the beginning of the global crisis, the president has been especially attuned to the number of cases in the U.S.

In February, he was insistent that the little more than a dozen cases already reported would soon go down to zero. During a visit to the Atlanta headquarters of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in March, Trump hesitated to say whether he wanted infected passengers on a cruise ship off the coast of California to debark, noting that the passengers would contribute to an uptick in reported cases.

“I like the numbers being where they are. I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship that wasn’t our fault,” he said at the time. “And it wasn’t the fault of the people on the ship either, OK? I can live either way with it. I’d rather have them stay on, personally.”

Just five days ago, Trump mused that testing was “overrated” after two White House aides tested positive for the virus, including one who’d posted a negative test the day before. That, he asserted, was more proof of “why the whole concept of tests aren’t necessarily great.”

But lately, Trump has knocked the press for not reporting what he called a “common sense” explanation for the country’s high case numbers as he’s boasted about the number of tests being conducted.