Tags: Coronavirus | Donald Trump | Trump Administration | task force | briefings | pandemic | testing

WH Rebuts Virus Test Critics, Insists Capacity's More Than Enough to Move Ahead on US Restart

(C-SPAN)

By    |   Friday, 17 April 2020 07:44 PM

States have been green-lit to activate Phase I of the Reopening America Again protocol, the White House coronavirus task force announced Friday.

And that, President Donald Trump and other administration officials said, is because contrary to what critics are insisting, there is more than enough coronavirus testing capacity to move ahead with restarting the nation's sputtering economy.

Vice President Mike Pence, the head of the task force, repeated twice at the president's daily virus press briefing, "Today, there is enough testing for states" that meet the criteria for Phase 1 to be started, if the individual state governors 'choose.'"

"Following the announcement of our reopening guidelines, there have been some very partisan voices in the media and politics who have spread false and misleading information about our testing capacity," Trump said. "It's totally false and misleading, demonstrating a complete failure to understand the enormous scope of the testing capabilities that we've brought online.

"We started really from ground zero. We started from really being very, very outdated and obsolete, as a country from the past. And I will say this: If they didn't understand it, it's just really unfortunate."

The directive authorizing governors to move to Phase I of the restart protocol if they so choose has been signed off on by the task force health experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci of National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, according to Trump.

"We are reinventing testing in America," Pence said, saying the Trump administration has changed the paradigm for testing, moving away from laboratories and the CDC taking lead by delivering the capacity to the states and localities.

Testing capacity has been one of the top criteria for moving through the three-phase program of Reopening American Again. The U.S. has conducted a world-leading 3.78 million COVID-19 tests to date, including 120,000 per day and now 1.2 million-plus per week, Trump announced.

"We may be opening, but we're putting safety first," he said, adding the testing criticism is going the same way the ventilator criticism fell by the wayside. Ventilator needs were overrequested by states, namely New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, but they were not needed and are not being sent back.

Pence added states have ability to "double" the testing they are doing daily with the capacity that is already delivered from the task force. Dr. Deborah Birx, the task force testing expert, is actively working with states to unlock that existing potential that has been sitting unused to date, Pence said.

"Governors across the country have been working very closely with us to rule on the level of testing that we have today," Pence said. "All of the information that we presented to you is going to be reviewed in the days ahead with all of our governors. Our objective is to connect every one of America's governors and state health officials to all the labs that are currently able to do coronavirus testing.

"As Dr. Birx [and] Dr. Fauci both described, we believe today that we have the capacity in the United States to do a sufficient amount of testing for states to move into Phase I in the time in manner they deem to be appropriate."

The administration has been facing intense criticism over testing, with many officials insisting the White House record on this score has been perilously spotty and haphazard.

Indeed, frustration on the subject boiled over into anger Friday on a private call with Pence before the press briefing, as Democratic senators questioned administration officials about coronavirus testing plans.

At one point, Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, a former governor, told Pence the administration's failure to develop an adequate national testing regime is a "dereliction of duty," according to a person who joined the hour-long call but was unauthorized to discuss it and was granted anonymity.

"I have never been so mad about a phone call in my life," King told the administration officials, the person said.

The plea for more testing before implementing Trump's new guidelines to ease stay-home restrictions is a top priority for Democrats. They are heeding the warnings of health officials worried the virus will simply boomerang into prolonged national crisis.

FEMA coordinator Amb. Brett Giror said 93% of American localities have nearby testing capacity, and by the end of April, 5 million more swabs for the Abbott Laboratories'  ID Now test will be ready. Some have decried a serious shortfall in the swabs needed to run the tests in any meaningful numbers.

Also, by the end of May, there will be 12 million swabs for the high-capacity 5- to 15-minute Abbott tests, Giror said, further bolstering White House claim there is enough capacity to start working through the Reopening America Again guidelines.

On a related testing matter – the development of antibody testing to help signal when someone has been exposed to the virus and may have acquired some immunity to it – Birx said the FDA is being very cautious in approving that type of testing analysis. Trump announced two more antibodies tests have been approved by the FDA, bringing the total number to four different antibody tests now available in the U.S.

"The FDA has been very cautious about the antibody tests, because I know you see reports every day of countries that have ordered the antibody tests and found that they were 50, 60, 70% faulty," Birx, who has worked in HIV testing for years, said. "So, we are taking that very seriously because you never want to tell someone that they have antibody and potential immunity, when they don't. 

"And so those tests performed better when there is a high prevalence or high incidence of disease," she added.

"Things can look very good in the lab and then when you take them into the field, sometimes they're not as good. I have learned this lesson repeatedly and working around the globe."

The testing capacity guidelines presented Friday show the states are only able to activate Phase I. There will be more analysis conducted in that phase across the U.S. before the testing capacity to permit a move to Phase II is reviewed, according to Dr. Birx.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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States have been green lighted to activate Phase I of the Reopening America Again protocol, the White House coronavirus task force anounced Friday.
task force, briefings, pandemic, testing, reopen
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2020-44-17
Friday, 17 April 2020 07:44 PM
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