President Trump's comments at a weekend campaign rally in Oklahoma about slowing down testing for coronavirus were just "a passing observation," Vice President Mike Pence told the nation's governors on Monday.
The president has been widely criticized for seeming to dismiss the importance of testing for COVID-19, especially at rates of infections continue to climb nationwide. Late Saturday after the president's rally, a White House official told CBS News that the president's comments were "in jest."
On Monday, Pence clarified the president's comments about testing under questioning by Nevada Democratic Governor Steve Sisolak, who sought assurance that state and federal leaders would stay on the same page about the importance of testing for COVID-19. Sisolak called the president's comments "not helpful" – but neither he nor Pence referred to them as a joke, according to audio of the call obtained by CBS News.
"The president's comments on Saturday night as it related to his order to slow down the testing were certainly not helpful," Sisolak told Pence. "We're doing everything we can in Nevada to increase our testing, to increase the availability of the testing and our cases have gone up. It's not solely a result of more testing, it's also a result of people not wearing masks and not following the social protocols. So, if we could all get on the same page and get a commitment that there's not a federal mandate to slow down testing I think it would be extremely helpful."
Pence told Sisolak the administration is "going to continue to partner with you on testing — I think the president's observation was a passing observation in his remarks. But we are seeing that now that we're doing more than 500,000 tests a day, we are finding more people. That has contributed to some of our numbers. So, I'd just say to you and all the governors on the call, as the media has focused on the new cases number, that we all would explain the percentage of that is reflective of an extraordinary national success in testing and that we are identifying people. And that that is a reflection of a great, great collaboration at the federal, state level, as well as with our private sector."
Multiple people listening to Monday's regularly scheduled conference call with governors shared highlights and audio of the meeting with CBS News.
On Saturday night in Tulsa, Mr. Trump called increased testing for coronavirus "a double-edged sword."
"Here's the bad part… when you do testing to that extent, you're going to find more people; you're going to find more cases," Trump told the roughly 6,200 people in attendance. "So I said to my people, slow the testing down please."
In a statement after the call on Monday, Sisolak said testing "is a critical component to Nevada's Roadmap to Recovery reopening plan, and the state has made great strides to make testing available to everyone, regardless of whether they are exhibiting symptoms or not. Increased testing helps determine the spread of the virus in the community and gives state and local public health operations critical information to pursue aggressive measures to help monitor and respond to outbreaks."
Pence also told the governors that the Trump administration remains focused on rising cases in nine states, with the situation stable in the other 41, and he told the governors that medical officials are seeing a growing trend of more people under age 45 testing positive for coronavirus.
"We are seeing steady progress in the vast majority of states," Pence told the governors, according to one person listening in on the call.
During the call, Pence also called on Republican governors from Florida, Texas and Arizona to explain how they're handling a sharp rise in infection in their states. Pence and other officials on the call especially praised Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis for his management of a record number of infections in the Sunshine State. DeSantis reiterated what he has said publicly – that increased testing among younger, asymptomatic people is driving the rate of infection.