WASHINGTON – An average of 550,000 COVID-19 tests are conducted every day nationwide – a significant increase from the roughly 300,000 processed in May but far short of the nearly 1 million experts say are needed to ensure a safe reopening of the economy.
The country could reach that million-per-day target by fall, U.S. Adm. Brett Giroir, assistant secretary for Health and Human Services, testified during a hearing Thursday on the national stockpile of critical supplies convened by the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis.
Several states report surges in coronavirus cases. Florida logged more than 10,000 new coronavirus cases Thursday, setting a daily high.
Experts say some of that increase is due to wider testing but mostly to greater exposure as communities relax social distancing restrictions. The increases prompted some states to put their reopenings on hold.
Coronavirus cases are rising by more than 50,000 per day, a record high. Roughly 2.8 million Americans have been infected with the virus, and more than 129,000 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University.
“We are not flattening the curve right now,” Giroir told lawmakers. “The curve is still going up.”
In May, Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, told the same committee the country risks a coronavirus relapse if social distancing measures are eased without knowing who has the virus and who doesn’t. That would require conducting nearly a million tests a day.
“It was inadequate testing that precipitated the national shutdown,” he said. “We must not make the same mistake again as we open up our nation.”
President Donald Trump told thousands of supporters June 20 during a campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, that he has reservations about increased testing.
“Here’s the bad part: When you do testing to that extent, you’re going to find more people, you’re going to find more cases,” Trump said. “So I said to my people, ‘Slow the testing down, please.’ ”
The president tweeted that “we would show fewer cases” with less testing.
Last month, Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease expert at the National Institutes of Health, told a separate congressional committee he was not aware of any directive from the White House to slow down testing or contact surveillance, which he said are fundamental to “understand exactly what’s going on in community spread.”
Giroir told the coronavirus panel Thursday that about 35 million tests have been conducted nationwide since the pandemic landed on U.S. shores this year. By fall, testing could reach 40 million to 50 million per month, or more than 1 million a day, he told lawmakers.
That volume could grow even higher, he said.
“With emerging techniques like pooling of samples combined with investments in point-of-care technologies, that number could easily be 80 million available per month if they are needed,” he said.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Coronavirus: Testing increase still short of experts’ recommendation