Ex-FDA chief says U.S. not likely to have broad-based coronavirus testing until September

Some states are taking steps to reopen their economies this week following a three-phase plan from the White House recommending governors do so in stages.
Image: Medical workers administer a coronavirus test at Trinity University in Washington, D.C., on April 2, 2020.
Medical workers administer a coronavirus test at Trinity Washington University in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, April 2, 2020.Drew Angerer / Getty Images

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By Rebecca Shabad

WASHINGTON — Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said Monday that the U.S. most likely won’t have broad-based coronavirus testing in place until September.

“We're not going to be there. We're not going to be there in May, we're not going to be there in June, hopefully we'll be there by September,” Gottlieb said in an interview on NBC’s “Today” show.

Gottlieb said some states that haven’t been hit hard by the coronavirus are ready to begin reopening slowly in the beginning of May.

As other states reopen, he said that the U.S. won’t have the optimal amount of testing and contact tracing in place “to do the work of tracking down everyone who is sick, or who might have been in contact with people who [are] sick.”

“It's a risk, there's no question it's a risk," he said. "I mean, we won't have the testing that we want until September, I think, in terms of kind of broad coverage. You're still going to see high positivity rates heading into May.”

Still, it’s just not realistic to wait until the fall to reopen, he said.

“If we wait until we have sort of the optimal framework for testing, we'll be waiting until the fall and that's just not going to be possible from an economic, social or public health standpoint,” he said.

Gottlieb’s comments come as some states take steps to reopen their economies this week following a three-phase plan from the White House recommending that governors should do so in stages.

Public health experts, meanwhile, told NBC News that testing for COVID-19 should be at least doubled or tripled from current levels to allow for even a partial reopening of the country’s economy. An average of about a million tests are being conducted each week in the U.S., according to the COVID Tracking Project.

That surveillance only covers diagnostic testing, which determines whether a person tests positive for the illness at the time of testing. Antibody tests are currently in development that would determine whether a person was previously infected with the virus. Officials have been saying that those tests could be key to reopening the economy. At the same time, officials also warn that it’s unclear whether a person who already contracted the virus is immune from getting it again.