Trump lays out new coronavirus testing 'blueprint' as states weigh reopening

The president said the federal government and the private sector will work closely with state, local and tribal governments to ramp up testing.
Image: U.S. President Trump arrives for coronavirus response news conference at the White House in Washington
President Donald Trump heads to a coronavirus response news conference in the Rose Garden of the White House on Monday, April 27, 2020.Carlos Barria / Reuters

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By Dartunorro Clark

President Donald Trump announced a new federal coronavirus testing "blueprint" Monday to aid governors in ramping up capacity as a handful of states begin lifting stay-at-home restrictions.

Trump, who was not originally scheduled to hold a briefing, billed the plan as part of the administration's push for a "phased and very safe reopening" of the U.S. over the next few months. He said the plan includes provisions to expand state testing capacity and establish widespread monitoring systems, as well as contact tracing.

"We are continuing to rapidly expand our capacity and confident that we have enough testing to begin reopening and the reopening process," Trump said from the White House Rose Garden. "We're deploying the full power and strength of the federal government to help states, cities, to help local governments get this horrible plague over with and over with fast."

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Trump said the federal government and the private sector will work closely with state, local and tribal governments. He then invited executives from companies involved in expanding testing capacity, including Quest Diagnostics, U.S. Cotton, Walgreens, Walmart, Rite Aid and Kroger, to speak.

Despite Trump's eagerness to reopen the country — and even though a few states have already begun the process of reopening — Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said Sunday on "Meet the Press" that the U.S. needs a "breakthrough" on coronavirus testing to combat the virus' spread.

Birx said current diagnostic testing, which analyzes a sample from someone's nose or mouth for evidence of the live virus, can "carry us through the spring and summer."

But she said there needs to be a significant breakthrough with antigen testing, which can discover whether someone has already been sickened with COVID-19 and can help "screen large numbers of individuals quickly." Birx said the task force intends to continue working with states to scale up testing for those who are ill.

Most Americans remain under stay-at-home orders. Some governors, including Andrew Cuomo of New York, are pushing to significantly expand testing before committing to timelines to reopen and have objected to Trump's previous claims that states are already conducting enough tests.

"Testing isn't going to be a problem at all," Trump predicted Monday.

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Trump also said he has expanded Medicare to make it easier for seniors to pay for coronavirus testing and that he has allowed governors to authorize Medicaid to cover tests.

Birx said at the briefing Monday that the intention is to make sure each state reaches its capacity for testing, implements a system to monitor high-risk people, such as seniors, and has a contact tracing strategy to slow the spread.