US has sufficient testing capacity to end lockdown, insists White House

US Lockdown


The White House coronavirus taskforce has pushed back at widespread criticism that the US lacks the testing capacity to end lockdowns and reopen its economy.

Mike Pence, the vice-president, insisted on Friday that there were enough tests to enable states to follow the first phase of federal guidelines released 24 hours earlier. But the coronavirus response coordinator, Dr. Deborah Birx, admitted that phase two remained uncertain because of the difficulty of testing people who carry the virus but do not show symptoms.

“Our best scientists and health experts assess that today we have a sufficient amount of testing to meet the requirements of a phase one reopening if state governors should choose to do that,” Pence told reporters in a lengthy briefing dominated by the issue.

Dr. Brett Giroir, the assistant secretary for health, added that the US would need to conduct about 4.5m tests each month to safely enter phase one. It is currently carrying out about 1m to 1.2m a week.

In phase one, the guidelines recommend strict social distancing for all people in public. Gatherings bigger than 10 people are to be avoided, and nonessential travel is discouraged. In phase two, people are encouraged to maximize social distancing and limit gatherings to no more than 50 people unless precautionary measures are taken. Travel could resume.

When Birx was asked whether testing capacity was sufficient for phase two, she replied: “That’s a great question, and what we will be doing is monitoring how much we have to use in phase one to really help inform phase two.”

She admitted: “The real unknown in this, to be completely transparent, is asymptomatic and asymptomatic spread, and so if we find that there’s a lot of asymptomatic individuals that we find in this active monitoring in what we are very much concerned about, the most vulnerable, then we will have to have increased testing to cover all of those sites.”

Pence also emphasized that states, not the federal government, would have to take responsibility for testing programs. The absence of a national testing strategy is seen by critics as an attempt by the White House to avoid blame if problems arise.

Pence said: “As the president’s made clear, we want governors and states to manage the testing operations in their states. We’ve given criteria, we’ve given guidance for how we think that would best operate, but we’re looking for the states, we’re looking for the governors to manage it.”

Donald Trump himself tweeted on Friday, “The States have to step up their TESTING!”, while also being accused of fomenting rightwing protests against lockdown measures in three states led by Democratic governors.

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