As other countries have enacted quarantines and set up thermal imaging stations in airports, the United States has struggled to simply distribute test kits.
The United States remains woefully under-prepared for a potential coronavirus outbreak.
According to Bloomberg.com, the federal government has so far tested fewer than 6,000 samples from Americans with suspected infections. In recent weeks, the virus has spread to at least 34 states, with 708 confirmed cases across the country.
Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn has confirmed that the agency doesn’t know exactly how Americans have coronavirus. Hanh has said that testing for the virus—known also by its technical name, COVID-19—is complicated by the diagnostic process. Patients have so far required anywhere between two and twenty tests to determine whether they’ve contracted the illness.
However, the uncertainty is due, at least in part, to the United States’ decision to develop its own diagnostic guidelines instead of following those set by the World Health Organization. Forbes, for instance, notes that it’s taken over a month for the CDC to deliver “tests to a handful of labs across the country, only to discover the kits that were sent were flawed.”
Furthermore, the Trump administration initially only permitted patients who’d recently traveled to China to be tested. That criteria was only removed within the past week.
Hahn and his counterpart in the Health and Human Services department, Alex Azar, nevertheless maintain the country is ready to contain a wide-scale outbreak. Hundreds of thousands of test-kits have been prepared in the past week, with another million expected to be sent out in the near future.
Azar has also pushed back against claims that the Trump administration has endangered Americans by refusing to adopt the WHO’s testing protocol. During a weekend briefing at the White House, Azar suggested that the World Health Organization’s diagnostic system is just an adaptation of Germany’s.
“My understanding is that I believe Germany developed a recipe protocol for a test. The WHO took that and put that out and that’s what’s often been called, misleadingly, the WHO test,” Azar said. “I believe they also got the CDC recipe and also put that out. It’s what we do. We develop these concurrently. CDC developed its test, I believe, within 14 days of getting the sequence.”
But Azar did admit that the nation’s response was lagged because the Trump administration has tried to jettison responsibility onto state governments and state-administered laboratories.
President Trump himself, too, has been extensively criticized for appearing to politicize coronavirus. Throughout February, the president downplayed the virus’s threat and spread, even telling audience members at the Conservative Political Action Conference that media coverage of the infection has been extensive precisely because journalists think a pandemic could influence the next election.
Later reports emerged that a CPAC attendee had, in fact, tested positive for coronavirus. The White House has since maintained that President Trump doesn’t need to be screened, despite several of his political allies opting to self-quarantine after coming into contact with the commander-in-chief.
CNN reports that Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA), and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows have all taken steps to isolate themselves after either meeting with Trump or attending CPAC.
White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said that Trump won’t be tested because “he has neither had prolonged close contact with any known confirmed COVID-19 patients, nor does he have any symptoms.”
“President Trump remains in excellent health, and his physician will continue to monitor him,” Grisham added.