President Donald Trump declared Tuesday that the U.S. will be able to carry out five million coronavirus tests per day, but the top official overseeing testing strategy told TIME earlier in the day that goal wasn’t feasible given current technology.
Admiral Brett Giroir, the assistant secretary of health who is in charge of the government’s testing response, said during an interview on Tuesday morning that “there is absolutely no way on Earth, on this planet or any other planet, that we can do 20 million tests a day, or even five million tests a day.”
Since the beginning of the year, the Administration has conducted 5.7 million tests in total, he said. And while the government has made strides in increasing the number of tests being performed in recent months, the White House’s new “blueprint” for testing, rolled out on Monday, currently plans to double current COVID-19 testing. Giroir plans to hit 8 million per month by next month.
The tally would still fall short of what a Harvard University study said is necessary to safely restart public life. The 56-page “roadmap” published last week by a group of experts said the U.S. needed to be capable of carrying out at least 5 million tests a day by early June, and 20 million per day by late July, in order to reopen the economy. Giroir called the assessment “an Ivory Tower, unreasonable benchmark,” that wasn’t needed, based upon current modeling projections, and that couldn’t be supported by current technology.
Five hours later, when a reporter asked Trump at the White House if the country would reach five million daily tests, as the Harvard study recommended, Trump responded: “We’ll increase it, and it’ll increase it by much more than that in the very near future.” Asked to clarify if he meant the U.S. would “surpass 5 million tests per day”, Trump said, “We’re going to be there very soon.”
The largest number of tests conducted by the U.S. in a single day was 314,182, according to Covid Tracking Project data. Trump didn’t offer how his Administration was going to account for the 1,500% increase, but assured those at the briefing: “If you look at the numbers, it could be that we’re getting very close.”