WASHINGTON – As many as 6 million Americans might be tested for the coronavirus weekly by September – and it still won’t be enough to permit the complete country to reopen safely.
A panel of health experts on Wednesday told a congressional panel monitoring the federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic that the progress being made on ramping up testing remains far short considering that states are starting to loosen social distancing restrictions enacted over the past two months.
Coronavirus Cases: – 1,430,348
Deaths: – 85,197
“It was inadequate testing that precipitated the national shutdown. We must not make an equivalent mistake again as we open up our nation,” Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, told the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis. “The U.S. needs quite 900,000 tests a day to securely open up again. We do a few third of that.”
Jha and other experts urged more transparency at the federal level and better coordination on the strategic deployment of existing tests to measure a community’s vulnerability.
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Mark McClellan, who ran the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services under President George W. Bush, said 2 million to three million tests were wiped out the past week.
“That’s a big increase of where we’ve been,” he told the committee.
Based on the administration’s expectations about testing increases this month, McClellan said the state should get on track for 3½ million every week by the top of the month and “maybe 6 million per week by September.”
That still would be about 300,000 tests every week in need of what the Harvard Global Health Institute is looking for. And, McLellan said, current testing might be improved through more strategic distribution of obtainable kits.
Scott Gottlieb, former Food and Drug Administration commissioner under President Donald Trump, said flattening case numbers show an improving situation and technological advances will boost testing capacity within the coming weeks. But he also cautioned about moving too quickly.
“We’re seeing signs of a slowing epidemic nationally but we’re still getting to be reopening against a backdrop of more spread than we anticipated,” he told the House committee.
President Donald Trump speaks during a coronavirus task force briefing at the White House.
Red states, most of them within the South, have led efforts to reopen their economies, cheered on by Trump, whose administration released a reopening plan that reportedly excluded more restrictive measures than government health experts recommended.
“The question that’s being discussed at every table in America immediately (is) how will we all know once we are able to safely reopen our country? To answer that question, we should always be told by history and guided by science,” said Committee Chairman James Clyburn, D-S.C. “While we all want to reopen as soon as possible, doing so before the right safeguards are in situ would cause more sickness and death.”
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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi created the panel to watch the spending of quite $2 trillion – thus far – to combat the crisis and help the U.S. economy battered by an epidemic that has upended lifestyle . Republicans opposed the creation of the commission, viewing it as a partisan effort to tarnish the president.
Republicans on the committee spent much of their time questioning the validity of the panel when the House already has eight standing committees to conduct oversight.
“This is crazy,” said Indiana GOP Rep. Jackie Walorski, comparing the panel to the efforts by Democrats to impeach Trump last year. “The last item this coronavirus effort needed was another committee.”by