One month ago, Governor Doug Burgum and Senator John Hoeven were invited to the White House to talk about the importance of testing. The roundtable discussion hosted by the President was to highlight ways to track covid19’s spread and to safely reopen the economy. North Dakota was set to be an example for other states. Either they didn’t deliver the message effectively or it fell on deaf ears of the President. Forty days later, Trump has now doubled down on the need for fewer and slower tests during the pandemic.

One of the most striking comments at President Trump’s Tulsa gathering was about testing Americans for covid19. “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.” The comment didn’t exactly land well with the 6,200 in attendance. “Slow the testing down” doesn’t have the same marketability of “Build the wall.” No applause, no boos, just bewilderment.

Two days passed since the Tulsa event and the White House, campaign staff, and even VP Mike Pence are downplaying the testing remarks. According to The Hill, Pence – who leads the pandemic task force – dismissed the comments on a call with Governors. “Pence brushed off the significance of Trump’s comments, according to the source, calling them passing remarks by the president.”

The next morning, the President tweeted out “Cases are going up in the U.S. because we are testing far more than any other country, and ever expanding. With smaller testing we would show fewer cases!” He went on to tell reporters, “I don’t kid.” With that, officials can no longer shrug and turn away from these remarks. It wasn’t a badly delivered joke. 120,000 fellow American’s lost to the pandemic is no laughing matter. It wasn’t just “passing remarks.” The President believes testing is a problem rather than part of the solution in this pandemic.

It is fair to expect leaders to push back on the position that testing is somehow a problem. They too must be beyond bewilderment at this point. We can begin right here in North Dakota. On May 13th, Governor Doug Burgum and Senator John Hoeven were invited to the White House to visit with the President. ND was viewed as a state leading the nation in response to covid19.

Our economy was opening back up at the time. Approximately forty days of closed businesses were coming to an end. Increased testing coupled with expansive contact tracing would lead to opening up the economy safely. Though the state hasn’t met its daily testing goals, it has increased substantially since the beginning of the pandemic. The cases have stayed relatively flat since. Sadly, 77 North Dakotans have been lost as of this publication.

Identify where the virus is through testing. Trace who that individual has come into contact with. Isolate and treat when necessary. Does increased testing increase the likelihood you’ll find more cases? Yes. Does it help you reduce the spread and lower exposure thus cases of the virus saving lives in the long run? YES. That is the point.

The seriousness of this situation doesn’t allow for silence. Burgum and Hoeven were correct in their earlier position, but that is when things were looking rosier. There is nothing courageous in remaining quiet now. At least one of these two is more trusted in the eyes of North Dakotans than the President. Take it for a walk and lead.

Doug Burgum was invited to the White House because of his leadership during the pandemic. A data-driven Governor who regularly looks at the rate of testing. It is incumbent upon him to push back on the position of testing being a “double-edged sword” as the President suggests. Unless, of course, he too believes testing needs to be slowed during the global health pandemic.

Tyler Axness
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