The Trump administration is promising to buy 100 million testing swabs and vials by the end of the year and distribute them to states as part of the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a report to Congress obtained by CNN.
But the largest share of the responsibility to ramp up testing remains on the states themselves.
“State plans must establish a robust testing program that ensures adequacy of Covid-19 testing, including tests for contact tracing, and surveillance of asymptomatic persons to determine community spread. States must assure provisions are in place to meet future surge capacity testing needs including POC or other rapid result testing for local outbreaks,” said the 81-page report, called the Covid-19 Strategic Testing Plan.
The plan, first reported by The Washington Post, outlines testing targets each state is expected to report to the federal government, noting a 12.9 million nationwide testing target for the month of May. The US “will be capable of performing at least 40-50 million tests per month” by September, the report says, reiterating a previous White House projection.
As states reopen and lift restrictions, health experts have emphasized that adequate testing, which has been a central challenge since the beginning of the pandemic, is necessary to detect coronavirus and trace its spread. The US has experienced significant challenges in testing, including flawed testing sent to states at the beginning of the pandemic that slowed containment efforts, lack of testing supplies to ensure Americans are properly tested and mixed messaging on who can get tested.
The White House has frequently emphasized what it sees as the states’ responsibility to handle testing, saying in a blueprint on testing last month that the federal government is the “supplier of last resort.”
“With support from the federal government to ensure states are meeting goals, the state plans for testing will advance the safe opening of America,” the newly reported plan says.
In the report, the administration recommends the states “have an objective of testing a minimum of 2% of their population in May and June, pending additional new data on infections and impact of reducing mitigation.”
The report was submitted to four congressional committees Sunday night per a deadline set by lawmakers for the national testing strategy. It was swiftly rejected by top Democrats, who accused the administration of painting a “rosy picture.”
“The Trump administration still does not take any responsibility for ramping up our nation’s testing capacity, instead pushing the burden onto the states — forcing states to compete with each other to procure vital supplies to administer tests from the private market,” said the statement, issued by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, and Sen. Patty Murray, the top Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee.
“To reopen our economy safely, we need testing to be free, accurate, reliable and accompanied by tools like contact tracing so we can slow the spread of the virus and prevent outbreaks,” the Democrats said.
President Donald Trump has touted that the US has “prevailed on testing,” but health experts have cautioned more testing is needed to safely reopen the economy and studies show the country is behind some other nations in testing per capita.
The US has conducted about 14.1 million tests as of midday Monday, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
In a call last week with the nation’s governors, FEMA Administrator Pete Gaynor said his agency had shipped swabs and viral transport media to every state and was planning to ship another 12.9 million swabs to states in June.
Adm. Brett Giroir, the administration’s testing czar, suggested in that call that the administration “may not get to” that 12.9 million swab goal by the end of the month but was recording over 400,000 tests per day as of May 17. Over the first few weeks of the program, Giroir acknowledged, swabs and viral transport media will not be “wrapped with a bow on them,” but said “this will evolve as more supplies become available.”