Trump pledges to overhaul coronavirus testing plagued by delays

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President Trump on Friday vowed to overhaul the coronavirus testing approach in the U.S., with “drive-thru” options available in some locations.

The promised revamp comes after weeks of testing delays and difficulties accessing test kits by both doctors and patients.

Under the new approach, people who think they need to be tested can fill out an online screening questionnaire and be directed to the nearest drive-thru, with results provided in 24 to 36 hours.

”That is the intent of this approach,” said Dr. Deborah Birx, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, during a press conference with Trump and other administration officials in the Rose Garden.

“We’ve seen it work, just in our own United States, and we want to bring this across the continent,” she added.

The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday approved an emergency authorization for a faster coronavirus test made by diagnostics maker Roche. Trump said 500,000 additional tests will be available next week, with drive-thru testing locations being announced Sunday night.

“The goal is for individuals to be able to drive up and be swabbed without having to leave your car,” Trump said.

Similar approaches have been used in countries like South Korea. 

Trump during his remarks on Friday thanked Google for “helping to develop a website that’s going to be very quickly done … to determine whether a test is warranted and to facilitate testing at a nearby convenient location.” 

However, Verily – a life sciences research organization under Google parent company Alphabet – said that while it is “developing a tool to help triage individuals for Covid-19 testing” it “is in the early stages of development.”

The company said it is “planning to roll testing out in the Bay Area, with the hope of expanding more broadly over time.”

Members of Congress and the American public have complained for weeks about the slow pace of testing, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and public health labs running only 13,600 tests since January.

As of Friday afternoon, 1,875 people in the U.S. had tested positive for the coronavirus. Public health officials have estimated that thousands of people likely have the virus but don’t know it, partly due to the lack of testing. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, a government scientist serving on the White House’s coronavirus taskforce, told Congress this week testing in the U.S. has been a “failing.”

“The system is not really geared to what we need right now — what you are asking for,” Fauci told a member of Congress. 

“The idea of anybody getting it easily the way people in other countries are doing it, we’re not set up for that. Do I think we should be? Yes, but we’re not,” he said.

It’s not clear when the new program will fully ramp up, but Vice President Pence said it will be “very soon.” 

Critics argue the U.S. should have set up a large-scale testing program far sooner when it became clear the coronavirus would spread outside of China. 

The CDC and the public health labs it works with were set up to surveil the country for emerging diseases and outbreaks, not to run pandemic-levels of testing, CDC Director Robert Redfield argued this week before a Congressional Committee. 

Redfield said the private sector is responsible for performing widespread testing for the virus, but commercial labs and academic centers did not start testing until late last week.

It is still not clear how many tests commercial labs have run because they are not required to report that information to the CDC.

Trump also declared a national emergency over the coronavirus, freeing up additional resources and funding for the federal, state and local governments fighting the disease. 

Updated at 7:45 p.m.

Tags Coronavirus Coronavirus testing Donald Trump Mike Pence

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