After Trump promised 'anybody' can get coronavirus testing, patients and doctors still complain of roadblocks
Many Americans who are sick and seeking a coronavirus test continue to be turned away, creating a vexing problem for patients and health officials as the virus spreads. The problem persists, doctors and patients across the country say, despite increased production and distribution of the tests in recent days.
At a time when U.S. fatalities from the virus have risen, there remain limited numbers of tests and the capacity of laboratories is under strain.
The constraints are squeezing out patients who don't meet rigid government eligibility criteria, even if their doctors want them tested, according to dozens of interviews with doctors and patients this week.
The gap between real-life obstacles to testing and President Donald Trump's sweeping assurances that "anybody that needs a test gets a test" has sown frustration, uncertainty and anxiety among patients who have symptoms consistent with covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, but have been unable to find out whether they are infected.
"It's really been unbelievably infuriating," said Remy Coeytaux, a North Carolina physician with a doctorate in epidemiology who tried to get tested for covid-19 but was turned down by the state public health department. He had not traveled abroad, was not sick enough to be hospitalized and had no known contact with an infected person.
At the time Coeytaux tried to get tested, there was only one confirmed case of covid-19 in the state. "It's out there," he said. "But we just haven't been testing."
The federal government's handling of testing erupted as a political issue Thursday, with even members of the president's party venting about not being able to get answers on when the nation would see more see more commercials tests, faster testing and more widely available tests.
Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., acknowledged that Trump's recent statement about tests for anyone who wants them is "not consistent right now" with what is actually happening.
As of late Thursday, more than 1,300 people were infected in the United States, and more than 30 had died, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.
Since mid-January, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other public health laboratories have tested about 11,000 specimens for the disease. The number of people who have been tested is likely far lower than that tally however because labs usually test at least two specimens per person, experts said. In contrast, South Korea has been running 10,000 tests per day.
"The system is not really geared to what we need right now, to what you are asking for. That is a failing," Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of Trump's coronavirus task force, said Thursday, testifying before the House Oversight Committee. "The idea of anybody getting it easily the way people in other countries are doing it, we're not set up for that. Do I think we should be? Yes."
In an address from the Oval Office on Wednesday evening, Trump said his administration was responding "with great speed and professionalism." "Testing and testing capability are expanding rapidly, day by day," he said. "We are moving very quickly."
States determine who is eligible for public covid-19 testing in accordance with CDC guidelines. In the early weeks of the outbreak, as the CDC struggled to roll out tests, the agency strictly limited testing to those most likely to be infected and most in need of acute care. Even a person with a fever and a cough who had traveled to a country with widespread community transmission - such as China, Iran or Italy - could not get tested unless they were sick enough to be hospitalized.