The US health system is "failing" at providing adequate testing for the coronavirus as the outbreak begins to grip the country, Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told Congress on Thursday.
“It is a failing. Let’s admit it," Fauci, a top-ranking member of the White House's Coronavirus Task Force, told the House Committee on Oversight and Reform during a hearing on US coronavirus preparedness and response.
"The system does not — is not really geared to what we need right now," said Fauci. When it comes to testing, "the idea of anybody getting it, easily, the way people in other countries are doing it — we’re not set up for that. Do I think we should be? Yes. But we are not."
Fauci's blunt comments come on the heels of the World Health Organization declaring the outbreak a pandemic, where more than 127,00 people worldwide have been diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, most of them in China. But while China has seen a drop in new cases after implementing extreme restrictions on travel and other aspects of public life, a handful of other countries, including the US, are seeing their numbers surge.
So far, more than 1,300 people are known to be infected in the US and at least 38 people have died. But public health experts have warned hundreds to thousands more could already be infected — undetected due to a shortfall in testing that has drastically hampered an aggressive response to the virus's spread nationwide.
The testing problems began with an initial distribution of faulty tests last month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to state officials, combined with narrow criteria for who could be tested.
A BuzzFeed News review of testing in all 50 states and the District of Columbia found a big discrepancy between testing conducted so far and the numbers of available tests promised by the Trump administration. And even when people have been approved to get tested, they've still faced obstacles in getting the test administered and then have had to wait days for the results.
Current estimates peg the total number of US tests conducted at fewer than 9,000 tests to date. By contrast, South Korea is now reportedly testing up to 20,000 people a day for the virus.