America has failed to meet the capacity for coronavirus testing that it needs, a top public health official acknowledged Thursday.
"The system is not really geared to what we need right now," Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in a House hearing about coronavirus test kits in the United States, which were initially dogged by technical glitches. "That is a failing. Let's admit it."
Fauci was responding to a question from Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Florida, who asked about a claim by trade organization National Nurses United alleging that "countless" health care workers exposed to the coronavirus have been refused a test for it.
When the virus first started appearing in America, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had narrow criteria for who could be tested for it, further limiting the number of tests performed on top of the technical problems. Those guidelines have since been expanded. Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the CDC, who was also testifying in the hearing, directed Wasserman Schultz's question to Fauci.
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"The idea of anybody getting it easily the way people in other countries are doing it, we're not set up for that," Fauci told Wasserman Schultz. "Do I think we should be? Yes. But we're not."
The blunt acknowledgment came as the CDC reported it had tested just over 11,000 specimens for the virus so far, far fewer than other nations, especially given that multiple specimens are needed for each patient. Meanwhile, South Korea is testing nearly 20,000 patients per day, according to the BBC.
In response to Fauci, Wasserman Schultz said: "That's really disturbing, and I appreciate the information."
The question came a week after a nurse exposed to the virus in northern California said in a statement through National Nurses United that despite having symptoms, the CDC would not test her.
"They said they would not test me because if I were wearing the recommended protective equipment, then I wouldn't have the coronavirus. What kind of science-based answer is that?" the nurse said.