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Fact check: Trump's boast about US, South Korea coronavirus testing misses the mark

Shefali Luthra, Kaiser Health News on

Published in Political News

Boasting about his administration's response to the coronavirus crisis -- and arguing the outbreak would soon be under control -- President Donald Trump claimed that recent American efforts to test widely for COVID-19 surpass those of other countries.

"We've done more tests in eight days than South Korea has done in eight weeks," Trump said during a March 24 virtual town hall hosted by Fox News, reiterating a statement made just moments before by Dr. Deborah Birx, the head of the White House coronavirus response. The statement was repeated during the White House briefing that evening.

Trump doubled down the next day, tweeting that "over an eight day span, the United States now does more testing than what South Korea (which has been a very successful tester) does over an eight week span."

Why the comparison with South Korea? South Korea has been heralded globally for its swift response to the pandemic, which appears to have slowed its rate of new infections. Meanwhile, a national shortage of tests has hamstrung American efforts, resulting in many people at risk being forced to delay testing until they are seriously ill.

With that context, we were curious. Is the president's claim accurate? Has American testing been as robust as his statement indicates?

We contacted the White House and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention but never heard back. But the numbers suggest his picture is inaccurate and, more important, missing crucial context to understanding the battle against COVID-19.

 

THE RAW NUMBERS

South Korea publishes a daily report of how many tests it has performed. As of Tuesday, 348,582 people had been tested, and testing began in early February. About 9,000 of those people were confirmed to have the virus. (The 345,582 figure includes tests that were run but hadn't yet yielded results.)

In the United States, it's harder to tell. The CDC doesn't put out updated, aggregated counts of tests performed in public and private labs -- which is important to note. Since the start of March, a large chunk of American-done tests have been conducted in commercial -- not government-run -- labs.

Experts pointed us to a credible tally that suggests that, on the raw numbers, the president's stat is flawed.

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