Tags: Coronavirus | Trump Administration | cdc | test kits

Trump and CDC Director Insist Virus Tests Are Working as President Tours Agency

Trump and CDC Director Insist Virus Tests Are Working as President Tours Agency

Protestors demonstrate in front of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention headquarters on Friday in Atlanta. President Donald Trump's trip to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, briefly scuttled because of unfounded fears that someone there had contracted the coronavirus, was back on later on Friday. (Ron Harris/AP)

Friday, 06 March 2020 07:12 PM

President Donald Trump and the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday defended the agency’s development of a test for the coronavirus, dismissing assertions that the federal agency’s missteps have handicapped diagnosis of the disease.

“Anybody who wants a test can get a test,” Trump said during a tour of the CDC’s laboratories in Atlanta. He swiftly revised the statement, saying moments later: “Anybody who right now and yesterday, anybody that needs a test gets a test.”

The number of cases of the virus in the U.S. has more than doubled since Monday, to 260, Johns Hopkins University reported on Friday. There are hotspots in Santa Clara, California; outside Seattle; and in Westchester County, New York. There have been 14 deaths, most of them in King County, Washington.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Friday there are 33 cases in his state, an increase of 11 from Thursday.

Tallying the number of active U.S. cases is impossible at the moment because many people may be sick but undiagnosed, owing in part to a shortage of test kits. As those kits are distributed, health officials expect the numbers of confirmed cases to rise.

Trump touted the rapid deployment of commercially available coronavirus testing, which should be available through Laboratory Corporation of America Holdings and Quest Diagnostics facilities by the beginning of next week.

Vice President Mike Pence, asked about the president’s remarks at a White House briefing later Friday, indicated that Americans would receive a coronavirus test at the recommendation of a physician.

“I think for any American that’s symptomatic, speaking to your doctor, if you have reason to believe that you have been exposed to the coronavirus, I have every confidence that your physician would contact state health officials and have access to the state lab,” Pence said.

The CDC director, Robert Redfield, said during Trump’s tour that the agency had moved rapidly to develop a test for the virus after the outbreak began in China late last year. He said that the test had been sent to state health authorities “to see if they could verify if it worked.”

“We found out in some of the states it didn’t work,” he said. “I don’t consider that a fault. I consider that quality control."

Two of Trump’s top aides each described the coronavirus outbreak as “contained” on Friday morning.

“It is being contained,” White House counselor Kellyanne Conway told reporters, challenging a questioner who suggested otherwise. “Are you a doctor aware of it not being contained?”

The Trump administration’s coronavirus response coordinator, Deborah Birx, said on Thursday, “We will see more positive tests.”

‘Relatively Contained’

While Birx didn’t address whether the outbreak had been “contained,” Trump’s top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, echoed Conway. He said in a CNBC interview on Friday that the outbreak “looks relatively contained,” adding that “the vast majority of Americans are not at risk for this virus.”

“It can’t be airtight but we are, you know, you look at the numbers here and I know there are things in front of us, you know, by itself more testing is going to uncover more cases,” he said. “But in a relative sense relative to our population, relative to ordinary flus -- I don’t want to downgrade this thing, this can be human tragedy for individuals who suffer or Lord knows who die, I have said that from day one -- I think it is relatively contained.”

Experts in infections, outbreaks and virology disagreed with the contention that the virus has been contained and with near unanimity say they expect significantly more cases in the U.S. and elsewhere.

It’s likely that 20% to 60% of people worldwide, including in the U.S., will eventually contract the virus, said Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics and one of the foremost infectious disease modelers in the U.S. Humanity has no natural immunity or protection against the virus, which is spreading so efficiently that it may be difficult to stop, he said.

Already in the U.S. there are probably hundreds or thousands of people who are infected and don’t realize it, Lipsitch said.

Hopkins Tally

The Johns Hopkins count, based on current reports by state and local authorities, is well ahead of the official count of the CDC: 164 cases and 11 deaths in 19 states on Friday, up from 99 cases, 10 deaths and 13 states on Thursday. The CDC updates its count at noon weekdays based on figures obtained as of 4 p.m. the day before.

State governors and public health authorities have complained that they have insufficient supplies of test kits to diagnose the disease, after the kit the CDC initially distributed last month turned out to be defective. The Trump administration has raced to issue a better kit, as well as to authorize private laboratories to make their own, but they remain in short supply.

For example, The Los Angeles Times reported Friday that California -- population 40 million -- has the capacity to test about 7,400 people through the weekend.

The Atlantic magazine reported Friday morning that based on a survey of public health agencies in every state, it could only count 1,895 Americans that have been tested for the virus. About 10% of them have tested positive, the magazine said.

A CDC spokeswoman didn’t respond to a question about the Atlantic report and how many tests had been completed. A spokeswoman for Pence also didn’t respond.

Priority Tests

Pence said Thursday that the CDC is “prioritizing” tests for Washington and California and that by the end of next week enough kits will be distributed to test about 1.2 million Americans.

“While we’re meeting the demand of cases we know about today, we still have a ways to go to ensure the tests are available for any future cases,” Pence said in a news conference with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee. “By the end of next week, another 4 million tests will be available. But it’s still just a beginning.”

But Conway said that there are “plenty” of test kits available, while also acknowledging that the disease may be spreading via people who suffer only mild or no symptoms and thus won’t be tested.

“People are asymptomatic and don’t know they have it,” Conway said.

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Friday, 06 March 2020 07:12 PM
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