Admiral Brett Giroir, the Trump administration coronavirus testing czar, said that anyone who “needs” a coronavirus test can get one but he acknowledged that the average turnaround time for tests is too long as states smash records for numbers of cases.
Appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union,” he pushed back at former Trump chief of staff Mick Mulvaney who earlier this month called his family’s difficulties obtaining tests promptly “inexcusable” this many months into the pandemic.
Giroir didn’t define what “need” meant, but some testing sites across the country are prioritizing people who are already sick, even as schools and businesses will need more quick testing as they reopen. Giroir said health officials are working on expanding surveillance testing and boosting testing capacity in nursing homes.
The background: Mulvaney penned a CNBC op-ed in mid-July homing in on two examples to criticize the United States’ testing capacity. He said his son had recently been tested for the virus and waited up to a week for the results, and that his daughter had been turned away from getting a test before she went to visit her grandparents. Older Americans are more vulnerable to the virus.
“I want to be really clear, whether it’s Mick Mulvaney or anyone else, I feel like going somewhere so I need a test. That is not where we are. We are in the middle of a serious pandemic,” Giroir said.
What happened: New reports of testing delays have surfaced, and experts have warned that the country can’t fully contain the pandemic without widespread testing.
Giroir repeatedly defended the Trump administration’s response and said critics keep upping their assessment of how much testing is needed.
About half the country’s testing is performed in large commercial labs, and that turnaround time is about 4.27 days, Giroir said.
One major commercial lab Quest Diagnostics, announced in mid-July that the turnaround for non-priority Covid-19 tests had stretched to more than a week.
“We are trying to bring that down,” Giroir said, noting pooled testing is now authorized in two large labs.
Pooled testing combines samples from multiple people; individual samples are screened only if the batch comes back positive for the virus. Pooling lets labs process more tests – but it isn’t that useful in areas where the virus is spreading widely.
Another quarter of the country’s tests is point-of-care, which are typically complete within about 15 minutes, and the other quarter is performed in local hospitals and labs, taking generally about 24 hours, Giroir said.
What’s next: Giroir teased an announcement coming later Sunday on a “large investment” that would “improve the supply chain.”
“We are never going to be happy with testing until we get turnaround times within 24 hours,” he said.
But as hot spots surge, experts outside the federal government have said the country needs to perform about 3 to 5 million tests per day.