Maine officials said a map and spreadsheet of state-by-state testing capacity that the White House shared this week is not only inaccurate, it directly contradicts their continued pleas for more supplies.

Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Nirav Shah said he was frustrated that the Trump administration would share a document that doesn’t reflect reality.

“During the financial crisis … someone said the only thing you have in a crisis is your credibility and I live by those words,” Shah said in an interview Tuesday with the Press Herald. “When documents like that come out, it’s like everything I’ve been saying for months could get called into question.”

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine CDC, said the state has made significant progress in expanding testing in the last month, but still needs to double or even triple the number of tests. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Maine is the latest state to joust with the Trump administration over its uneven messaging and response to calls for increasing coronavirus testing.

The White House document was shared late Monday during a conference call with governors and Vice President Mike Pence, who also assured state leaders that the government was working to ramp up testing – even as President Trump has been saying that states, not the federal government, should take the lead.

Gov. Janet Mills participated in the conference call and her office immediately noticed errors. In one instance, the White House listed Maine’s Health and Environmental Testing Laboratory as having equipment it does not have and in another it failed to include one of the state’s largest labs, NorDx at MaineHealth.

Mills’ spokeswoman Lindsay Crete said Tuesday that she could not provide the White House document because it contained the following language: “All machine location information is confidential and proprietary to the manufacturers. This information is being shared with the consent of the manufacturers for official use only. Unauthorized release of this information could affect competitive position in the commercial marketplace.”

Shah, however, viewed the document and characterized it with one of his trademark analogies. He said the map showed 20 dots on the state of Maine, each representing a piece of equipment capable of conducting tests.

“Those are necessary pieces but nowhere close to being sufficient,” he said, before explaining the various other elements and supplies needed to conduct tests. “It would be like going to soccer ball manufacturers and saying, ‘Give me a list of everyone who bought a ball,’ and then concluding that’s the number of professional soccer players.”

Testing has long been a point of friction between states and the Trump administration as the coronavirus has spread. Public health experts agree that any substantial reopening of the economy must coincide with more comprehensive testing, which, so far, has not happened. Countries that have flattened their epidemiological curves have done so through aggressive testing, which is important because so many people who have the virus are asymptomatic.

Shah said in his daily media briefing Tuesday that the state has made significant progress in expanding testing over the last month, but still needs to double or even triple the number of tests being conducted.

He said the shortage of a chemical reagent needed to run the test remains a major barrier. The state is working to determine whether the supply of those chemicals is “robust enough,” or whether it should switch to a different testing platform with a reagent that is not in short supply. Shah said those discussions have intensified in the last 48 hours and he expected a decision would be made soon.

But Shah said either way, it’s problematic that the White House is presenting a misleading picture of Maine’s testing capacity.

“If it were just that the document had some factual inaccuracies, that’s to be expected with any large data extraction,” he said. “But what was frustrating to me on a personal level was the implication that Maine people might see that and think, ‘Who’s right and who’s wrong?’”

Other state governors, including Republican Larry Hogan of Maryland, also said the assessment of states’ testing capacity contained inaccuracies, The Associated Press reported.

Hogan said much of the unused lab machinery listed for his state was in federal labs that the state does not have access to, although Pence agreed to open up federal labs to help states. Maine does not have any federal labs.

Hogan announced Monday that Maryland received 500,000 tests from South Korea – a “game-changing” deal that was negotiated by his wife, Yumi Hogan, who grew up outside Seoul.

“They want the states to take the lead, and we have to go out and do it ourselves, and so that’s exactly what we did,” Hogan said.

As of Tuesday, a little more than 4 million tests had been administered nationwide, according to the COVID Tracking Project, and about 15,000 in Maine, most of which have been limited to at-risk groups and health care workers. There have been 888 confirmed cases of COVID-19 so far in Maine; 443 people have recovered and 36 have died.

Maine Sen. Angus King last week called the Trump administration’s failure to develop an adequate national testing regime a “dereliction of duty.” The comment was made during a call between Pence and several U.S. senators, according to a person who participated but was unauthorized to discuss it.

Later Friday, King publicly expressed his anger with the administration, which he says is offloading its responsibilities to states.

“If you know me, you know I’m a pretty even-tempered guy – but right now I’m angry,” King tweeted Friday evening. “We need widespread testing to understand the scope of this problem and the administration has the tools to lead the charge.”

King was among a group of 44 senators who called on the Trump administration to conduct a comprehensive inventory of the nation’s supply of testing kits, chemical reagents and equipment, and to publicly disclose testing data and results.

“The problem is the president is now trying to offload onto the governors the responsibility for testing – and the governors aren’t in position to take that on. They can scramble around and compete amongst themselves for the materials – the chemicals, the vials, the machines, all those things – but they can’t really do it in any comprehensive way. That’s what the federal government can and should do,” King said in a statement to the Press Herald.

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