President Donald Trump said Monday that he would "certainly consider" mandating governors to test all nursing home residents for the coronavirus.
"I will mandate it if you like," Trump told a reporter who asked why the White House had not issued such an order.
Nursing homes have in some states become hotbeds for the spread of the disease.
In New York, the state hardest hit by the pandemic, more than 5,300 people living in nursing homes have died from the virus, according to the Associated Press. In nursing homes and long-term care facilities nationwide, more than 26,000 people have died of the virus, the AP reported.
Those deaths count for more than one-quarter of all coronavirus deaths in the U.S. so far, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
A federal mandate to test nursing home residents would mark the Trump administration's first national coronavirus order. Experts have noted that trying to impose coronavirus-related restrictions at a national level may be legally murky. The White House declined to provide additional comment on the president's remarks.
"I think it's important" to have all nursing home residents tested, Trump said at a White House press conference meant to highlight nationwide Covid-19 testing efforts.
"I think, frankly, some of the governors were very lax with respect to nursing homes," Trump said. "It was obvious right from the beginning."
Trump pointed to a nursing home in Washington – the state where the first coronavirus cases were confirmed – in which dozens of residents died early on in the crisis. "And I would have said, 'nursing homes,' and I did say, 'nursing homes,' that's what they should [do]," Trump said.
"Now, some of the states, many of the states are doing that. But I think all of the states should be. They have the capacity, they should be doing nursing homes. That is a real vulnerability," the president added.
The Trump administration has issued broad guidelines to states on slowing the spread of the virus, as well as an outline for states to follow as they start relaxing their social distancing rules.
But those guidelines are not binding, and the administration has not intervened when some state governors began to lift their social distancing rules without meeting the criteria recommended by the White House.
Trump and other top officials have maintained that enforcement be left up to the states, arguing that a "one size fits all" approach to fighting the virus would not work across the country.