A lack of widespread testing is a potential weak point in President TrumpDonald TrumpCapitol fencing starts coming down after 'Justice for J6' rally Netanyahu suggests Biden fell asleep in meeting with Israeli PM Aides try to keep Biden away from unscripted events or long interviews, book claims MORE's plan to reopen the economy.
Trump unveiled a plan Thursday at the White House that calls for increased testing to open the economy up in three phases.
But the guidelines do not provide any plan for increasing the country’s testing capacity, which experts say needs to rise dramatically before it will be safe to go through any of the phases.
And there are no specific criteria for how many tests a state should be able to perform before starting to reopen.
Governors are clamoring for the Trump administration to play a larger role in producing and obtaining testing supplies that are facing persistent shortages, some as simple as the swabs needed to conduct tests, saying the federal government has capabilities states do not.
But Trump is pushing responsibility onto the states. “The States have to step up their TESTING!” Trump tweeted Friday, while also attacking New York Gov. Andrew CuomoAndrew CuomoZeldin says he's in remission after treatment for leukemia Letitia James holding private talks on running for New York governor: report Governors brace for 2022 after year in pandemic spotlight MORE over Twitter for needing help with “testing that you should be doing.”
Governors accused Trump of passing the buck, saying it was clear that a federal testing program was necessary.
Experts say it is necessary for the government to perform several million tests per week to be able to identify infected people, isolate them and trace their contacts. These are all steps that would be needed to contain the virus as blunt social distancing measures requiring people to stay at home are eased up.
“There needs to be a strategy for how we're going to get to the level of testing that we need, including defining the level of testing we need,” said Jennifer Nuzzo, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.
Tom Frieden, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Friday that the number of tests needs to at least triple from its current level of less than 150,000 per day. “We are weeks if not months away from having a sufficient number of tests,” he said.
Several governors have called on Trump to use the Korean War-era Defense Production Act to direct companies to increase production of crucial testing supplies, something only the federal government has the power to do. But Trump has declined to do so, so far.
Senate Democrats are pushing for Trump to use that law and are also pushing for $30 billion in new funding to ramp up testing capacity in the coronavirus response bill currently being negotiated.
On the Republican side, Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzO'Rourke prepping run for governor in Texas: report Support for Abbott plunging in Texas: poll White House debates vaccines for air travel MORE (R-Texas) also called on the administration to use the Defense Production Act for testing supplies on Friday. “I have been urging the administration to move more effectively, to do things like use the Defense Production Act,” he told Yahoo Finance.
Washington Gov. Jay InsleeJay Robert InsleeSeattle area to require COVID-19 vaccine to enter indoor venues Washington state troopers, firefighters sue over vaccine mandate Washington state enacting mask mandate for large outdoor events MORE (D) told Trump on a call with governors Thursday that his state needed the federal government to help produce more swabs and other testing supplies that are in shortage.
Trump rejected that request at his press briefing later on Thursday, bringing up Inslee’s comments and saying: “You got to be able to go out and find [it]. You know, the federal government shouldn’t be forced to go and do everything.”
That shortages of such crucial but simple supplies as swabs are holding back the U.S. response is deeply frustrating to experts, who say the federal government should be taking action to increase production.
Nuzzo said the current situation “is sort of like the Hunger Games” with states competing against each other for testing supplies and reaching out to Chinese manufacturers on their own.
“The real bottleneck has been actually these swabs,” said Michael Mina, a professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
“It’s just astounding these are still causing the problems,” he added. “People are clamoring to get any line on a swab manufacturer.”
Asked about increasing testing on Thursday, White House coronavirus task force coordinator Deborah Birx said that there are “a million more tests per week” in unused capacity in the United States because not all testing machines are being used.
“We have tests sitting there and equipment sitting there,” she said, saying the administration is working to start using that capacity.
But the Association of American Medical Colleges, which represents labs at academic medical centers, pushed back in a letter on similar comments Birx made earlier this week. David Skorton, the group’s president, wrote to Birx that the reason some machines are going unused is because of shortages in the supplies needed to use the machines.
Labs are “severely hampered by shortages” of supplies like swabs, reagents (a chemical needed to perform the tests), and protective equipment for lab workers, he wrote.
Ross McKinney, the association’s chief scientific officer, reaffirmed those comments in a call with reporters on Friday. “It's going to be critical that we have a lot more testing available,” he said in addressing the White House reopening plan. “They don’t specify that, but that’s going to be critical.”
Inslee told reporters Thursday that only the federal government has access to the military’s supply chain, which is a far more powerful source of supplies than what any state has access to.
“We have needed the president for some time to tell the Pentagon to order their people and their supply chain to stop making a few more cupholders for some of our armored personnel carriers and start making swabs and vials and everything else that we need,” Inslee said.
“The fact of the matter is we are woefully short,” he said. “We are 1,000 miles away from having enough testing equipment in the United States and in the state of Washington.”