“People should not say, ‘If you want a test, you can get a test’ right now. That’s coming. That’s not here right now,” Lankford added. “We’ve got a long way to go to be able to get rapid, efficient testing.”
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Senate’s health committee, said after the briefing that the U.S. is “not the best equipped nation in terms of testing.”
“That’s absolutely obvious every single senator who asked a question today,” Alexander said, calling it “a serious deficiency” for the country’s health care system.
Lawmakers emerging from the briefings said the U.S. is struggling to keep up with other countries’ capacity to test people for the virus due to issues with the supply chain. According to several attendees, the health officials said the slow pace was due to low availability of cotton swabs, gloves and other protective gear that is necessary for technicians carrying out the tests.
“These things are made primarily outside of the United States,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said. “Countries that are facing outbreaks are not going to be in the business of shipping out materials that they need themselves.”
Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) said the officials were “having a very difficult time giving us the numbers that we’re going to need in terms of exactly how many tests and how quickly.”
Despite these criticisms, Trump on Thursday insisted that the U.S. has done a “good job” on testing.
“Frankly, the testing has been going very smooth,” Trump said. “If you go to the right agency, if you go to the right area, you get the test.”
When pressed during a House hearing on whether someone in the federal government is ensuring people are getting tested who need it, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told lawmakers that the U.S. health system isn’t “geared to what we need right now.”
“It is … failing, let’s admit it,” said Fauci, one of the nation’s top health officials. “The way people in other countries are doing it, we’re not set up for that. Do I think we should be? Yes, but we’re not.”
Senators warned that the U.S. health care system could soon become overwhelmed, noting that countries such as Italy and South Korea are dealing with an influx of patients and limited medical supplies. More than 12,000 people have been infected with coronavirus in Italy, while South Korea has an estimated 7,800 cases.
About 1,200 people in the U.S. have tested positive for the virus, and that number is expected to grow in the coming days and weeks.
“It’s very frustrating that we have been so slow in getting the testing. There’s no question about that,” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) added. “You can’t get wipes for your countertop. You can’t get alcohol. You can’t get masks in our country. And it’s very difficult to get tests.”
Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.) said Trump administration officials left “a lot of questions that are still not being able to be answered,” particularly on the nation’s testing capacity.
“I believe the [Centers for Disease Control] struggled to give a really strong answer on being able to duplicate some of the places like South Korea,” he said.
Walker said officials indicated 2.4 million testing components had been disseminated but not necessarily put together yet. But those components would eventually be able to test about 800,000 people, he said.