Trump pledges ramp-up of virus testing, but it’s up to states

WASHINGTON (CN) — Aimed at helping states navigate how to conduct business once stay-at-home orders are lifted across the U.S., the White House released new guidance Monday which President Donald Trump says will greatly improve and expand coronavirus testing.

From the Rose Garden at the White House on Monday, Trump said the “hunger” for returning Americans to work is palpable and that social distancing has saved “countless lives” but he also emphasized the need to resume life as usual in phases.

“We want to get our country open and the testing is not going to be a problem at all, in fact it is going to be one of the great assets we have,” Trump said.

According to the 11-page blueprint, the federal government is only considered a “supplier of last resort” for tests and will continue to support state efforts to “accelerate testing plans and programs that help enable American to Open Up Again.”

But that assistance will be only offered in part.

“Testing plans and rapid response programs will be federally supported, state managed and locally executed,” the blueprint notes.

It is expected that the government’s supply of tests will cover roughly 2% of each state’s residents. A spokesperson for the White House did not immediately return request for comment.

“We’re deploying the full power and strength of the federal government to help to get this horrible plague over with and over fast,” Trump said Monday. “There’s tremendous energy in our country right now and a spirit like you’ve never seen.”

Presenting the new blueprint, Brett Giroir, assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services, said the United States has successfully worked through seven of eight steps the administration had in mind in its path toward reopening.

Of those achieved, he claimed while referencing the blueprint, is America’s “galvanization of commercial and research laboratories as well as professional associations to ramp up testing capacity.”

At present, just under 6 million Americans have been tested following widespread delays that hamstrung the federal government’s initial pandemic response. According to the Covid Tracking Project, just 1.6% of the entire U.S. population has been tested so far.

“We want everyone to be safe. Many are thinking about their school systems. I think you’ll see a lot of schools open up even for a short time. I think it would be a good thing,” Trump said, adding that he believes young people tend to do “very well with coronavirus.”

While the elderly are particularly vulnerable, it is noteworthy that in California most confirmed cases of Covid-19 occurred in those under 50, according to California Department of Public Health data. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also reported in March that coronavirus failed to spare adults from their 20s to their mid to late 40s.

Moving forward, Giroir said the number of tests issued by the federal government to states will depend on how hard a state is hit. Giroir also said the administration will assist with the issuance of 20 million swabs and 15 million tubes for test kits.

“And this is not even including the 5 million per month tests by LabCorps or Quest or point-of-care tests by Abbott Laboratories,” Giroir said.

Walmart president Doug McMillion and Larry Merlo, president of CVS, participated in the press conference following a private meeting with fellow retail titans, Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and other administration officials at the White House.

Merlo said so far at 1,000 CVS stores and parking lot across the U.S., the company has been able to test roughly 35,000 people per week. More tests will be coming online in May, Merlo said.

Heyward Donigan, CEO of Rite Aid, said Monday the chain is performing about 1,500 tests per day.

Much of the guidance in Monday’s federal blueprint includes information states have long established as necessary on their own. One recommendation from the White House issued Monday includes the suggestion that contact tracing for coronavirus be prioritized for “health care worker contacts or contacts who work with or are part of a vulnerable population.”

The CDC announced last week it added 650 employees to its roster to specifically assist states with tracing.

White House coronavirus task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx underlined the need for widespread and successful testing in order to jumpstart life, work and the economy post-pandemic.

Monday’s press conference was held after much back-and-forth from the White House.

Trump’s musing about “bringing light into the body” or injecting disinfectants as a means to combat the illness during a coronavirus taskforce briefing last week prompted the president to lash out on Twitter over the weekend. Blaming Democrats and the media for everything from his impeachment for abuse of power, to the Russia probe, to testing delays for Covid-19,  Trump said he would not hold the press conferences anymore.

He changed his mind midday Monday.

Trump from the dais defended his administration and in a veiled reference to former President Barack Obama said: “We’ll never forget loved ones or these great people that sacrifice for a reason of incompetence or what happened at a point where they could have protected the whole world.

“We had the greatest economy ever in the history of our world and I had to turn it off to get it to the point where we are today. I think we’re going to have an unbelievable year next year and a fantastic fourth quarter,” Trump said.