White House Defends Testing Capacity As Governors Ask For More
Updated at 8:37 p.m. ET
At a briefing of his task force Sunday, President Trump said his administration would have a call with governors and the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Monday to discuss how to increase coronavirus testing capacity in states.
Trump's remarks come as the administration defends its testing response and guidelines for states to start resuming normal operations, even as several governors said they are far short of the testing capacity they'd need to lift restrictions.
The president said governors are relying on state laboratories for testing instead of commercial labs, and he said commercial labs are also operating at 30% capacity and can go higher.
Earlier Sunday, Trump tweeted that he is "right on testing" and that governors "must be able to step up and get the job done."
Vice President Pence said that the country is doing about 150,000 tests a day and could double that by working with states to activate additional lab sites.
But experts at Harvard University estimate the United States needs to be testing at least 500,000 people a day, if not more, to begin to "reopen" the economy.
The Trump administration unveiled guidelines Thursday for how states could take a phased approach to restarting economic activity.
Speaking to Fox News' Chris Wallace Sunday morning, Pence said the current level of testing is enough for an approach that tests people with coronavirus symptoms and monitors people who are especially vulnerable.
"We believe the testing that we have today, Chris, across the country, once we activate all of the labs that can do coronavirus testing, is sufficient for any state in America to move into Phase 1," he said, assuming a state's cases are on a 14-day decline.
But several governors said Sunday they don't have the testing needed to consider easing stay-at-home restrictions.
In an interview with CNN, Virginia Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam said it was "delusional" to suggest that the nation's testing was adequate. Added Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, to the network: "The No. 1 problem in America" is "the lack of testing."
Another Republican, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, told NBC he needed the Food and Drug Administration to prioritize companies working to implement a test with a "slightly different formula." If approved, he said the state could double or triple testing capacity "virtually overnight."
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said her state would be able to double or triple testing capacity but needed supplies including swabs and reagents.
Increased testing is critical before reopening Michigan's economy, she said.
"It would take down the risk associated with taking actions to reengage parts of our economy because we would have a lot more data about how prevalent COVID-19 still is in our states," the Democrat told told Meet the Press.
Boosting swab production; elective surgery guidance
To help with testing, Trump at the task force briefing said the administration is preparing to announce an expansion of swab production, adding that he will use the Defense Production Act to help boost production.
He also talked about the administration's efforts to procure new ventilators, N95 masks and gowns, and said the government's Project Airbridge had brought in millions of pieces of medical equipment.
Trump also said the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services was finalizing guidance for doctors and hospitals to resume elective surgeries. Doctors and patients had been advised for weeks to put elective surgeries on hold as the medical system struggles with a wave of COVID-19 patients.
CMS Administrator Seema Verma announced that the agency would require nursing homes to report to patients and their families any cases of COVID-19 inside the home, and report any cases directly to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Earlier Sunday, congressional leaders and the Trump administration said they're nearing a deal for additional relief funds. "We're getting close to a deal," Trump said Sunday evening.
As of Sunday evening, more than 40,000 people in America have died because of the virus, according to Johns Hopkins University researchers.
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