Look Closely: What Exactly Did Trump Promise On COVID-19 Testing Capacity?

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 13: U.S. President Donald Trump takes questions at a news conference about the ongoing global coronavirus pandemic in the Rose garden at the White House March 13, 2020 in Washington, DC. Trump... WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 13: U.S. President Donald Trump takes questions at a news conference about the ongoing global coronavirus pandemic in the Rose garden at the White House March 13, 2020 in Washington, DC. Trump is facing a national health emergency as COVID-19 cases continue to rise and 30 people have died from the virus in the United States, according to The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images) MORE LESS
March 13, 2020 6:04 p.m.
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President Trump’s Rose Garden press conference was a self-congratulatory, glad-handing celebration of what Vice President Mike Pence called a “historic public-private partnership” to roll out nationwide testing for COVID-19 starting … wait, when exactly?

That’s the question after the national TV broadcast where the President, top government officials and business leaders extolled the virtues of the new program but failed to offer a specific timeframe for when mass testing for the novel coronavirus can begin.

At the start of the presser, President Trump said that he expects “up to half a million additional tests” to be “available early next week,” after Swiss pharmaceutical firm Roche received expedited approval from the Food and Drug Administration for a test the company developed.

But later on in the press conference, Roche-North America CEO Matthew Sause offered a far vaguer and less committed view, saying instead that his firm would be “working with laboratories to get it up and going in the near future, which will bring hundreds of thousands of tests available to patients in the United States.”

When is the near future?

Take what Trump said about a separate test, brought to you by life sciences company Thermo Fisher.

The President said that the FDA’s “goal” was to authorize the company’s application for a test “within 24 hours,” and that it would “bring additionally 1.4 million tests on board next week.”

To be clear, no country has managed to bring 1.4 million tests online that fast, from nothing.

Later, Pence contradicted Trump in his own remarks.

Pence said that the commercial laboratories were “literally” going to “make hundreds of thousands of tests available and being processed with results to patients in the very near future.”

When is the very near future?

It’s not clear. During questions from reporters, Trump refused to specify when the test would be made available, saying only that the country would “have the ability to do in the millions over a very, very quick period of time.”

Trump did, however, say that a public-private partnership with Google would set up a website by Sunday telling every American where they could go for immediate, drive-in testing.

But that was also seemingly contradicted by Pence.

Pence’s own remarks provide a clarification: “By this Sunday evening we’ll be able to give specific guidance on when the website will be available.”

We’ll know when the website will be up on Sunday, not the site itself.

That’s the future for you.

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