Mr. President tests negative for coronavirus, but a nation remains on edge

You tested negative, Mr. President, long after the messaging value — that the coronavirus pandemic is real and dangerous — was lost.

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President Trump Speaks To The Nation From White House Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

President Donald Trump declares a national emergency Friday in the face of the spreading coronavirus. But though he may have been exposed to the virus, he told reporters he has not been tested.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Good for you, Mr. President. You got the test.

Kicking and screaming, so to speak, and late. But you got the coronavirus test.

You got it after days of delay, after saying you might, after the White House doctor said you wouldn’t, and after the messaging value — that this pandemic is real and every American should act responsibly — was utterly lost.

Finally, the test came back negative. You don’t have coronavirus. But you’ve given us and the rest of the world another reason to doubt your leadership.

This sad but telling little drama — will President Trump get tested? — began Friday when you and your coronavirus team gathered in the White House Rose Garden to announce the creation of a public-private partnership to ramp up the availability of testing for the virus.

This was a marked improvement over weeks of foot-dragging by your administration, if in fact those tests become available across the country quickly — in days. It is too late to contain the virus in the United States, but a massive increase in testing could slow the spread, saving lives and buying the nation time until a vaccine is developed.

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You also announced the creation of a handy new website, Mr. President, to which Americans can go to see if they should be tested. It includes questions to help people determine their level of likely exposure to the virus — in your case, very high.

Just last weekend, Mr. President, you met at Mar-a-Lago with people who have since been diagnosed as having the virus, COVID-19, including a Brazilian press aide. And you knew this on Friday.

Mixed message

It was a curious scene in the Rose Garden on Friday. On the one hand, you announced an ambitious plan that ropes in the biggest commercial laboratories, including LabCorp and Quest, and several of the biggest retailers — Walgreens Walmart, CVS and Target — to dramatically increase testing for the coronavirus. The United States still will lag behind South Korea, but we’re moving in the right direction. Finally.

But then you undercut all sense of urgency — as if you didn’t believe a word you were saying — by shrugging off a reporter’s suggestion that, by the rules, you yourself should have been tested days earlier.

You said you had “no symptoms whatsoever.” And heck, you added, the president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, who also had been in close contact with that press aide, took the test and it came back negative, just like yours eventually would.

Despite those negative results, your inability to grasp how the coronavirus works remains stunning. Thankfully, government officials in several states have been acting more responsibly. Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s decision Friday to close all public Illinois elementary and high schools is the right one, coming in the wake of Ohio, Maryland, Michigan, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Seattle, San Diego and San Francisco announcing widespread school closures.

Late in the press conference, Mr. President, when again asked if you would get tested, you finally said halfheartedly, “Most likely.” But by then, your failure to appreciate the gravity of the matter was clear.

About that testing website

This became even more apparent after the press conference, when the website The Verge published a story questioning exactly who is building the testing website you touted.

Contrary to what you told the American public, Google isn’t building that site. “Instead, a much smaller trial website made by another division of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, is going up,” The Verge reported. “In all, the difference between the reality of what is being built and what was promised during the press conference is very large.”

But wait, there’s more!

Just before midnight on Friday, you put all this talk of tests to rest. The White House physician released a statement saying you would not be tested — nor would you self-quarantine.

And still more!

On Saturday morning, you announced that you had, in fact, taken the test — on Friday night. Why the reversal?

“People were asking, did I take the test,” he said.

You were again sending a message that you didn’t see the point.

Can we tell something to you, Mr. President?

• We’re grateful you don’t have coronavirus. This would have made a bad situation even worse.

• A lot of Americans who have not been your admirers would like to get behind you now. The stakes are just so high.

The best way to beat the coronavirus is for our nation to come together, even if that means lining up behind you. But, man, you make it hard.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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