On Sunday, Admiral Brett Giroir, a member of President Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force, refused to admit that the administration is not doing enough to boost testing capacity across the country.
At one point during an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, he attributed widespread frustration over delayed tests to would-be travelers.
“‘I feel like going somewhere, so I need a test.’ That is not where we are. We are in the middle of a serious pandemic that we are trying to control,” Giroir said. “We’re not gonna have 300 million tests per day.”
There is no evidence prospective travelers are responsible for the surge in tests; rather, the U.S. has the world’s highest number of coronavirus cases and deaths, and testing is one of the few ways to know how large the problem really is. But American laboratories responsible for processing coronavirus tests are buckling under demand for their services.
Contrary to Giroir’s tongue-in-cheek suggestion about millions of tests, local officials are worried more about the ability to conduct just hundreds or thousands.
Mayors of major cities facing large outbreaks, including Phoenix and Atlanta, have said testing delays have made containing the virus nearly impossible; local health officials back up their claims. Montana, which has more than 3,300 reported cases of COVID-19, ended its contract with Quest Diagnostics, a leading national testing company, after Quest told state officials that coronavirus results wouldn’t be turned around for two or three weeks.
Despite recent news reports about private laboratories struggling to meet demand for testing, Giroir insisted the Trump administration is providing adequate help.
“Tell me one thing we’re not doing with any of these private labs that we’re not doing or they’re not doing on their own and I’m happy to do it,” Giroir said. He added that testing is still largely available to people in hospitals, nursing homes and long-term care facilities.
When Tapper suggested the Trump administration invoke the Defense Production Act — which would prioritize the production of essential medical items in the private sector — to open and sustain labs across the country, Giroir responded that the DPA is not a “magic wand.”
Giroir said the administration looks for “every opportunity to invoke the DPA” but claimed most companies wouldn’t need a decree from the government to ramp up production because they’re already “highly motivated” to stop the pandemic.
Despite this hesitancy to intervene, Giroir said the administration is “never going to be happy” until tests can be turned around within 24 hours.
“We are not there yet. We’re doing everything we can to do that,” Giroir said.
The U.S. has faced testing problems since the beginning of the pandemic, and in late June, Trump said that he had asked officials in his administration to “slow the testing down.”
In an interview last weekend, the president again expressed skepticism about the need for widespread testing in order to stifle the virus.
But on Sunday, Giroir, a Department of Health and Human Services official chosen by Trump to lead the administration’s testing efforts, assured Tapper that he doesn’t shy away from discussing testing with his boss.
“Nobody in the task force is afraid to bring up anything either to the vice president or president,” Giroir said.
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