WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump has suggested testing be restrained so the pandemic doesn't look so bad.
His aides passed that off as a joke. Trump contradicted them, saying he wasn't kidding. Then he contradicted himself, saying he was.
So it went over the past week as America's reckoning with disease and racism navigated a fog of falsehoods and distortions from the president. A look at some of the claims and the reality from the past week:
TRUMP: "You know testing is a double-edged sword. Here's the bad part. When you test to that extent, you are going to find more people, find more cases. So I said to my people, 'Slow the testing down please.'" — Tulsa, Oklahoma, rally June 20.
THE FACT: First, it's not true he ordered testing slowed. The government's top public health officials testified one by one to Congress that Trump told them no such thing.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said the comment was "made in jest" and other senior aides similarly brushed it off as not serious. Trump didn't play along. "I don't kid," he said Tuesday when asked about the remark.
Then he reversed himself, telling Fox News on Thursday "Sometimes I jokingly say, or sarcastically say, if we didn't do tests we would look great." But holding back on testing is "not the right thing to do."
Trump' broader point — "If you don't test, you don't have any cases," he also said — flips science on its head. No one disputes the fact testing for the virus is key to controlling it. Testing is only one measure of the pandemic. It is also measured by hospitalization and death, which continue even if authorities were to close their eyes to spreading sickness.
COVID-19 has killed about 125,000 people in the U.S. Infections are far higher than are known because many who get the disease and pass it on are not tested.
TRUMP: "There is tremendous evidence of fraud whenever you have mail-in ballots." — remarks Tuesday at Phoenix rally.
THE FACTS: No there isn't.
Voting fraud actually is rare and Trump's attempts to show otherwise have fallen flat. Nevertheless, he persists in the assertion, in what can be seen as a pretext to discredit results if he loses in November.
Trump appointed a commission after the 2016 election to get to the bottom of his theory that voting fraud is rampant. The panel disbanded without producing any findings.
Some election studies have reported a higher incidence of mail-in voting fraud compared with in-person voting, but the overall risk is all but imperceptible. The Brennan Center for Justice said in 2017 the risk of voting fraud is 0.00004-0.0009 percent.
When Trump made similar assertions last month, Twitter took the extraordinary step of attaching fact-checking notices.
Richard L. Hasen, an elections expert at the University of California, Irvine School of Law, recently wrote in an op-ed that "problems are extremely rare in the five states that rely primarily on vote-by-mail, including the heavily Republican state of Utah."
Trump himself voted by mail in the Florida Republican primary in March. A half-dozen senior advisers to the president have also voted by mail, according to election records obtained by the Associated Press.
TRUMP: "I've also made clear that any rioters damaging federal property and defacing our monuments will face severe and lengthy criminal penalties. Ten years." — remarks Tuesday in Phoenix.
THE FACTS: He has no such authority. A president is not a judge.
TRUMP: "The number of ChinaVirus cases goes up, because of GREAT TESTING, while the number of deaths (mortality rate), goes way down." — tweet Thursday.
THE FACTS: No, increased testing does not fully account for the rise in cases. People are also infecting each other more than before as social distancing rules recede and "community spread" picks up.
"One of the things is an increase in community spread, and that's something that I'm really quite concerned about," Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government's top infectious disease expert, testified Tuesday.
As for Trump's point about mortality coming down, Fauci said that is not a relevant measure of what is happening in the moment with infections. "Deaths always lag considerably behind cases," he said. "It is conceivable you may see the deaths going up."
Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, testified "several communities are seeing increased cases driven by multiple factors, including increased testing, outbreaks, and evidence of community transmission."
TRUMP: "We have got the greatest testing program anywhere in the world." — remarks Tuesday.
TRUMP: "We've done too good a job." — interview Monday.
THE FACTS: The U.S. is nowhere near the level of testing needed to stem the virus, according to his own health experts.
Redfield testified health officials are still working to significantly increase testing capacity, calling such expansion a "critical underpinning of our response."
The U.S. currently is conducting 500,000-600,000 tests a day. Many public health experts said the U.S. should be testing nearly twice as many people daily to control the spread of the virus. Looking to the fall, some experts have called for 4 million or more tests daily, while a group assembled by Harvard University estimated 20 million a day would be needed to keep the virus in check.
Redfield said the U.S. was aiming to boost testing to 3 million daily by "pooling" multiple people's samples, a technique still under review by the FDA. He stressed the need for expanded surveillance because some people who get infected may not show symptoms.
"We still have a ways to go," Redfield said.
The U.S. stumbled early in the pandemic response as the CDC struggled to develop its own test for the coronavirus in January, later discovering problems in its kits sent to state and county public health labs in early February.
It took the CDC more than two weeks to come up with a fix to the test kits, leading to delays in diagnoses through February, a critical month when the virus took root in the U.S.