With the Abbott coronavirus tests, Trump is yet again exaggerating a possible solution

The tests made by Abbott Laboratories can produce a result in minutes rather than hours or days, and the devices that process the samples are the size of a toaster rather than a washing machine, The Washington Post reports. Trump has said they are a “game changer.” On Monday in a news conference in the Rose Garden about the administration’s increase in testing, Trump stood by the Abbott tests and others to emphasize the United States’ testing might.

But two days later, a preliminary study found that Abbott tests may miss as much as half of positive coronavirus cases that a rival testing company picked up. The study is just an initial one, and Abbott pushed back on its finding. But there are indications Abbott was missing a sizable amount of coronavirus cases, and on Thursday the Food and Drug Administration issued guidance that if a patient comes in and has symptoms of the virus and tests negative with an Abbott test, they should get a second opinion with another test.

“[I]t might be worth, if the test is negative, getting a second confirmatory test. That’s what our guidance is about,” Commissioner Steve Hahn said on CBS on Friday. He declined to endorse White House officials continuing to use the test, saying that’s their decision.

Contrast that with what Trump has said about the Abbott test, which the FDA authorized for use in late March after studying it for weeks rather than the usual months-long process:

  • “These tests are highly sophisticated — very quick, very good.”
  • It’s “highly accurate.”
  • “That’s a whole new ballgame.”

No one expects the president to be a science expert and get everything right all the time, but the Abbott test underscores that Trump has displayed no caution or nuance when he champions a development he thinks could help his administration fight the coronavirus. A number of times, he’s gone so far that he appears to deny reality about what science can do or has proved.

In early March at a roundtable with pharmaceutical executives about a vaccine for the coronavirus, Trump was insistent that a vaccine could be ready in months, even though a leading member of his own coronavirus task force, Anthony S. Fauci, had repeatedly said, right in front of him, that the timetable for a vaccine is much longer.

On Thursday, Fauci testified to Congress that vaccine trials are going incredibly fast but he still holds to the 12- to 18-month timeline and cautioned against hoping one would be ready by the fall school term.

Trump spent weeks in March and April championing an anti-malaria drug, hydroxychloroquine, as a cure to the coronavirus despite evidence, saying he had a “good feeling” about it. Clinical trials pushed in part by his advocacy for the drug ended with an FDA caution against using the drug “outside of a hospital setting or clinical trial due to risk of heart rhythm problems” that can be fatal.

In late April, upon hearing of a preliminary study that sunshine and disinfectant can kill the virus, Trump mused about injecting disinfectant into patients.

Last week, he said the coronavirus will disappear without a vaccine even though health experts have said the virus will probably never be eradicated, even with a vaccine.

Trump’s willingness to get out ahead of what science says is playing out in the fraught debate about whether and how much America should reopen the economy and society. While visiting the key swing state Pennsylvania on Thursday, Trump urged that state to open up faster despite fears Fauci stated in a high-profile congressional hearing days earlier that opening too soon will cost lives.

On Thursday, a vaccine expert in the federal government and whistleblower about the government’s response said he felt scientists need a bigger voice in this administration.

“We need to install and empower leadership, and we need to unleash the voices of the scientists in our public health system in the United States so they can be heard and their guidances need to be listened to,” Rick Bright said. “And we need to be able to convey that information to the American public so they have the truth about the real risk and dire consequences of this virus.”

Many of Trump’s own allies agree. Republican lawmakers and advisers have said they wish Trump would let scientists speak more — and speak less himself.

But Trump was slow to recognize the danger of the virus, and he is quick to hope it will be over fast. That’s created a pattern where he is repeatedly willing to get out ahead of science, even if so far none of his optimistic projections have proved true.

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