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Top Trump official 'really tired of hearing' criticism over COVID-19 testing

The Trump administration official in charge of the country's COVID-19 testing strategy said Thursday that the U.S. is doing enough testing and dismissed critics who say otherwise.

“It is just a false narrative — and I’m really tired of hearing it by people not involved in the system — that we need millions of tests every day,” said Adm. Brett Giroir, assistant secretary of Health and Human Services, on a call with reporters.

“If that were true, we would not be reversing the outbreaks we have,” he added.

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Some experts question whether the rate of infections in the U.S. is really slowing down, noting a drop in testing over the last few weeks that could cloud how widely the virus is spreading.

The U.S. was performing an average of 740,000 tests per day as of Tuesday, according to the COVID Tracking Project, a decline of more than 100,000 daily tests compared with two weeks ago.

Giroir instead highlighted a drop in the percentage of tests coming back positive, arguing that if the U.S. weren’t doing enough tests, that figure would be increasing.

“We are doing the appropriate amount of testing now to reduce the spread, flatten the curve, save lives,” Giroir said. “You beat the virus by smart policies supplemented by strategic testing. You do not beat the virus by shotgun testing everyone all the time."

Strategic testing means testing everyone in nursing homes and those who are hospitalized with COVID-19, and surveillance testing at public health labs that is intended to spot outbreaks, Giroir said.

“The people who are peddling numbers are spectators, not part of the system. They do not understand how this should be strategically used,” he said.

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Since the beginning of the pandemic, the U.S. has performed nearly 64 million tests, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

An analysis by The New York Times, based on methodology from the Harvard Global Health Institute, estimates the U.S. needs to conduct at least 1.5 million tests a day to stay ahead of the virus and safely reopen schools and the economy.

Giroir also addressed the lag time at commercial labs, which are taking longer to return test results due to surges in demand in the South and West, two regions of the country that have seen a spike in cases over the past few weeks.

He said turnaround times are improving and people who need test results quickly, such as nursing home residents, are getting them.

Commercial labs represented by the American Clinical Laboratory Association return 80 percent of test results within three days, and 90 percent of test results within five days, Giroir said.

“I would venture to say that the ones outside of five days are tests that probably should never have been ordered in the first place because they're not prioritized,” Giroir said.

Giroir has previously said people getting tested before they go on vacation are a lower priority.

Some experts argue the U.S. should be doing widespread testing of millions of people every day using cheaper, faster tests that can be used at home before people go to work, school or other areas where they risk infecting others.

Giroir said he expects faster, cheaper tests to be on the market in the next few months, but “this is not the 100 million tests a day that you do at home.”

“If we had a perfect home test, that would be great. We're all searching towards that. But we don't have that at this moment," he said. "It's going to be some type of medically supervised or trained person supervised test, probably at a point of care.”