As the coronavirus pandemic has spread over the past month, with The New York Times reporting 1,504 cases and 39 fatalities in the United States as of Thursday, Donald Trump "made clear" that he did not want aggressive testing for the virus, according to a Politico reporter who has covered the White House response to the outbreak.
The alleged reason, according to what reporter Dan Diamond told NPR in a Thursday interview, was that the president believed "the lower the numbers on coronavirus, the better for the president, the better for his potential reelection this fall."
Diamond said that Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar warned Trump in January that the coronavirus outbreak would be a "major problem." But Azar has been seen as reluctant to provide the president with the "worst-case scenario" for the virus and has not pushed harder for a more aggressive testing program. Per Diamond, Trump has "made clear" that he does not want to see the official number of coronavirus cases rise, in order to protect his reelection chances.
The Washington Post had previously reported that at an early January meeting to deal with what then appeared to a pending coronavirus outbreak, Azar attempted to explain the potential severity of the situation. However, Trump reportedly appeared "uninterested," as he interrupted to vent his anger over what he saw as the secretary's faulty implementation of the administration's ban on vaping.
Diamond's report of Trump's reluctance to push for greater coronavirus testing appeared consistent with the president's own public statements last week during a visit to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. Trump was asked during that visit about passengers stuck on a cruise ship off the West Coast, one that Diamond described as a "petri dish of coronavirus infections" in a Politico report.
Trump said that he would prefer not to allow those passengers to disembark the ship because once they reentered the U.S., they would cause the coronavirus case figures to jump.
"I would rather have them stay on, personally," he said at the time. "I don't need to have the numbers double because of one ship that wasn't our fault."
The Trump administration "badly bungled" the rollout of coronavirus testing, leading to an outbreak that is likely much wider than the publicly reported numbers, the journal Science reported last week.
The crisis took on a new momentum on Thursday when most major professional sports leagues "suspended" their seasons, and Major League Baseball delayed its scheduled March 26 opening day by at least two weeks, according to CNN, also shutting down all spring training games.
In New York City, Broadway shows with audiences greater than 500 people at a time have been shut down, and next month's TriBeCa Film Festival was postponed. Mayor Bill de Blasio also said that the city's two major sports and entertainment arenas — Madison Square Garden in Manhattan and Barclays Center in Brooklyn — are likely to remain closed "for months."