President Donald Trump told a mostly unmasked crowd of supporters Saturday night in Tulsa, Oklahoma, that he wanted to to slow down testing for the coronavirus.
“Testing is a double-edged sword,” he said, adding that the U.S. has conducted 25 million tests. “When you do testing to that extent, you’re going to find more people, you’re going to find more cases, so I said to my people, ‘Slow the testing down, please.’”
He went on to joke that public health officials are conducting so many tests “that people don’t even know what’s going on.”
“We got another one over here,” he said, pointing into the crowd. “The young man is 10 years old. He’s got the sniffles. He’ll recover in about 15 minutes. That’s a case!”
A senior White House official told NBC News that Trump “was clearly speaking in jest to call out the media’s absurd coverage” of the ongoing pandemic.
“We are leading the world in testing, and we are proud to have conducted 25 million-plus tests,” the official said.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, tweeted a simple reply to Trump.
“Speed up the testing,” Biden said.
During Saturday’s rally, Trump also referred to the coronavirus as “Kung flu,” a racially insensitive reference parroted earlier this year by a White House staffer. The president and other Cabinet officials have repeatedly called COVID-19 “the China virus” and “the Wuhan virus.”
Trump’s comments come as the coronavirus continues to spread throughout the globe. Before the rally, six Trump campaign members in Oklahoma tested positive for COVID-19. They were immediately quarantined and did not attend the event.
NBC News reported on Friday that Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, and Deborah Birx, the coronavirus task force response coordinator, both expressed concern over the safety of holding the rally, in part because Oklahoma has seen a significant rise in COVID-19 cases.
There was a 100 percent spike in cases in Tulsa County this week. On Saturday, local health officials announced 136 new coronavirus cases, the highest number yet to be reported in a single day in the state.
On Thursday, the World Health Organization said the coronavirus pandemic was accelerating, and the Americas are faring the worst. WHO announced 150,000 new cases earlier this week with half of those on this continent, Reuters reported.
Kelly O’Donnell contributed.