The coronavirus testing czar said Thursday the U.S. will approve an accurate home test but “don’t expect it in the next month or two,” as technology catches up with ambition.
While developers work on a rapid test for personal use, the government will dispatch the rapid tests it has to nursing homes and help governors “widen that circle” to schools and other critical sites, Adm. Brett Giroir said.
“There will be a day where there will be at-home tests, that are widely available in the hundreds of millions, that are cheap, [so] that we can test as frequently as we want. We’re just not there right now, right?” Adm. Giroir, an assistant health secretary in the Trump administration, told CNN’s Sanjay Gupta. “So we have to use the tests that we have in a strategic manner.”
As the virus death toll nears 200,000 and everyday life remains upended, it’s not uncommon for Americans to ask: Why can’t we check ourselves for the virus, each day at home, to go about our lives and reopen society?
Adm. Giroir said the question is a technological one and not a matter of will or resources.
“It takes time, as the research community knows,” he said. “So we’re getting close to that. Don’t expect it in the next month or two. Yes, a miracle could happen, there could be an ‘aha’ moment. But we’re moving science forward, it is within the realm of possibilities that we have that, it’s just, we don’t have that today.”
He said innovators are working with the government, including the “RADx” project at the National Institutes of Health, to deliver rapid tests for home use.
“We’re almost there,” Adm. Giroir said. “You’ll be seeing a lot of actions over the next few weeks to spur that development even more so that we can get true at-home tests, not tests that you have to do under a medical-supervised situation.”
For now, the government is dispatching millions of rapid tests from Abbott Labs to places that house the elderly, as the administration focuses on protecting the vulnerable.
Adm. Giroir said the government sent point-of-care tests to 13,500 nursing homes and is sending more to assisted-living facilities and home-health providers. Governors will receive a share of the 150 million tests the U.S. purchased from Abbott in the coming weeks, for use at schools or essential work sites.
Adm. Giroir described the uphill challenge he faced when he took on the testing challenge in mid-March, as virus cases soared in America. He said stockpiles of swabs were nonexistent, and protective gear for testing was lacking.
He said it wasn’t a Trump administration problem or an Obama-era problem, but rather a longstanding issue stretching back many years.
“We need to invest over a long period of time in diagnostics,” he told CNN. “Pandemic preparedness five years from now really begins today.”
The admiral outlined federal efforts as President Trump scrambles to explain excerpts from reporter Bob Woodward’s new book — titled “Rage” — that show Mr. Trump publicly played down the threat of the coronavirus earlier this year.
“I wanted to always play it down,” Mr. Trump told Mr. Woodward on March 19, according to clips of their discussion posted by CNN. “I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”
Mr. Trump has cast doubt on the importance of testing at times, saying it boosts the unflattering tally of confirmed infections — including cases that are mild. Officials in his orbit say they’ve never been ordered to scale back their efforts.
“Testing is a very important part of combatting the virus, and we’ve said this all along,” Adm. Giroir said. “I have never been told to slow down testing.”
Also, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sparked confusion with guidance that suggested asymptomatic people did not necessarily have to get tested after contact with a person known to be infected, although local officials or doctors could still order a test.
Adm. Giroir said the problem was that people might have been tested too early in the incubation period for the virus, received a negative result, and then felt they could shirk precautions.
“The intent was to get them tested within a penumbra of some kind of medical supervision,” he said. “We don’t want people to believe, ‘OK, I’m negative I can do whatever I want to do.’”
“We do need to test asymptomatic people, there is no doubt about that, full stop,” he told CNN. “Trust me, we want to test asymptomatic people.”
⦁ Seth McLaughlin contributed to this report.
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