Trump scrambles to broaden coronavirus testing options
WASHINGTON — The Trump administration scrambled Friday to broaden testing for the coronavirus with a flurry of new measures, and public confusion persisted over who should be tested and how to get checked for the disease.
Declaring a national emergency, President Donald Trump and senior staffers laid out a new testing strategy designed to screen hundreds of thousands of Americans at drive-thru centers based around major retail chains.
Countries including South Korea and Germany have been using that approach for weeks, allowing people to quickly provide a throat or nasal swab for testing without leaving their cars.
“We want to make sure that those who need a test can get a test very safely, quickly and conveniently,” Trump said at a news conference in the Rose Garden. But he added that the test is not intended for everyone, such as those without symptoms.
The moves come a day after one of the government's top health officials called the initial testing effort “a failing” and health care professionals, politicians and patients across the country complained about lack of access to testing.
Vice President Mike Pence, who is the leading the coronavirus task force, said the U.S. can currently test 15,000 to 20,000 patients per day, but added that the number would increase “very soon.”
Health officials said Friday that a new website “facilitated” by Google would guide users through a series of questions to determine whether they should be screened. If testing is recommended, users would be directed to a local testing location, which could include parking lots at Walmart, Target, Walgreen’s and other major chains. People will be able to log on to the screening website later to view test results, according to the administration.
The website could be ready by Sunday night, officials said, and results could be turned around in 24 to 36 hours.
Verily, a company under Google, confirmed that it is working to “help triage” people for screening. But the company offered no details about what the tool would look like or when it would launch.
The administration’s coordinator for the virus response acknowledged growing scrutiny of the government’s testing effort.
“I understand a lot of this behind-the-scenes action over the last couple of weeks was invisible to the press and the American people,” said Dr. Deborah Birx, a government researcher and health official.
For weeks, public health experts have warned that the U.S. testing effort is being stymied by the limited number of labs running the COVID-19 tests and confusion among health care workers over who can be tested.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tells people to seek testing if they have certain symptoms of the flu-like illness caused by the coronavirus – fever, cough and trouble breathing – and if they have traveled recently to a coronavirus outbreak area or have been in close contact with someone who's been infected.
Ultimately, it's up to the doctor to decide who should get tested.
In many states, health officials have parroted the CDC guidance when telling doctors who to test. But in some states, officials have varied a bit, depending on a range of factors, including availability of tests and whether the virus is known to be spreading there.
A New York man said he ran into hurdles trying to get tested after the death of a business associate who was infected with the coronavirus. Joseph Faraldo said he began feeling ill earlier this month and tested negative for the flu. He said he called the state health department and “they were useless,” and then the city health department failed to call him back as promised.