Race to Reopen America: Lawmakers advising President Trump talk next steps

Coronavirus

As the U.S. moves past 35,000 coronavirus deaths, our team in Washington, D.C. is examining the issues that likely won’t be featured tonight during primetime cable news — including what the lawmakers on President Trump’s task force to reopen America are telling him. You can watch their original reporting in the video above.

 The United States is struggling to test enough people to track and control the spread of the novel coronavirus, a crucial first step to reopening parts of the economy, which President Donald Trump is pushing to do by May 1.

Trump on Thursday released a plan to ease business restrictions that hinges on a downward trajectory of positive tests.

But more than a month after he declared, “Anybody who wants a test, can get a test,” the reality has been much different. People report being unable to get tested. Labs and public officials say critical supply shortages are making it impossible to increase testing to the levels experts say is necessary to keep the virus in check.

“There are places that have enough test swabs, but not enough workers to administer them. There are places that are limiting tests because of the CDC criteria on who should get tested,” said Dr. Megan Ranney, an emergency physician and associate professor at Brown University. “There’s just so many inefficiencies and problems with the way that testing currently happens across this country.”

Trump’s plan envisions setting up “sentinel surveillance sites” that would screen people without symptoms in locations that serve older people or minority populations. Experts say testing would have to increase as much as threefold to be effective.

The plan pushes responsibility for testing onto states.

“You know, the federal government shouldn’t be forced to go and do everything, ,” Trump told reporters Thursday.

But state and local officials as well as lab managers say they cannot expand testing until there are more supplies.

This week governors, physician groups and laboratory directors called on the Trump administration to address shortages of swabs, protective gear and highly specialized laboratory chemicals needed to analyze the virus’ genetic material. Hospitals and state health departments report scouring the globe to secure orders, competing against each other and their peers abroad in a system that Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-N.Y., described as “mayhem.”

“The federal government cannot wipe their hands of this and say, ‘Oh, the states are responsible for testing,’” Cuomo said Friday as he complained of a shortage of chemicals manufactured in China. “I don’t do China relations. I don’t do international supply chain.”

Trump has denied that the U.S. has fallen short, asserting that the nation has the “most expansive and accurate testing system anywhere in the world.” Only in recent days has the U.S. surpassed the testing rate in South Korea, which has conducted about one test for every 100 people. Vice President Mike Pence boasted Thursday that the U.S. had completed more than 3 million tests, but in March he promised 5 million would be distributed by the middle of that month. Pence told reporters Monday that if governors “would simply activate” underused high-capacity testing machines, “we could double the amount of testing in the U.S. literally overnight.”

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)

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