Top health official Fauci: People in US not easily getting coronavirus testing ‘is a failing’
One of the nation’s top health officials leading the coronavirus response on Wednesday admitted it is a “failing” that individuals cannot “easily” get tested for the disease in the U.S.
“The system is not really geared to what we need right now — what you are asking for,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told a member of Congress during a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing Wednesday.
“That is a failing. It is a failing. Let’s admit it,” he said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the public health labs it works with have only tested 11,000 patient specimens for the coronavirus since the first case was detected in the U.S. in January. That puts the nation far behind other countries that are testing thousands of people per day, like South Korea.
“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.
Fauci made the remarks under questioning from Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) about why people who need testing haven’t been able to get it, including nurses who are taking care of coronavirus patients. Because of the lack of testing kits available, the CDC and public health labs have imposed strict criteria on who is eligible for testing, including people who are elderly, have underlying health conditions or have traveled to high-risk countries. Public health labs also don’t have enough employees or resources to perform widespread testing.
CDC Director Robert Redfield in the same hearing defended the agency’s coronavirus response, arguing its job is to make sure public health labs have tests “and they can make the judgment on how they want to use it.”
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’s not clear how many tests commercial labs have run because they are not required to report that information to the CDC.
“It’s really the engagement of the private sector to get these tests into clinical medicine, which is a partnership between the private sector and CDC,” Redfield said.
The CDC “usually develops the test first, gets it out into the health departments to do surveillance, and then the private sector comes in to provide the clinical tools we need to basically diagnose patients.”
Lawmakers are increasingly frustrated that the U.S. appears to be far behind in testing for the coronavirus compared to countries like South Korea, which is testing about 10,000 people per day. The lack of testing also means it is impossible to know how many cases are in the U.S.
“I think people are frustrated,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) after a closed-door briefing Wednesday morning with Fauci and other health officials. “We all want a date. We all want to be told by Friday there will be 10 million tests available. The problem is they can’t tell us that.”
—Updated at 3:27 pm.