A day after the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a pandemic, health experts came to the Capitol on Thursday to brief members of Congress on the disease and testing.
But members emerged from the meeting saying they were unhappy with the lack of information health experts provided.
“What we still don’t have is a real sense [of the situation], and this is what’s most important to us. You can talk to us about reagents and processing capacity, but we still don’t have is: Can I tell my constituents that if a doctor recommends, that they can get [a test]?” Rep. Jim Himes told BuzzFeed News after the meeting. “We still don’t know that, and that’s the important question.”
A shortage of testing kits has become the latest problem in trying to implement nationwide coronavirus detection, according to reports. But health officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, weren’t able to give “clear” responses on how they would address the issue or how long it would take, members said.
Fauci told members in a separate House committee hearing Thursday that the US is “failing” at providing testing for the coronavirus. “It is failing. Let’s admit it. … The system … is not really geared to what we need right now,” he told the House Oversight Committee.
“The challenge is they didn’t come with much information today,” Rep. Abigail Spanberger told BuzzFeed News after the meeting, which also included officials from the FDA and the Defense Department.
Earlier this week, the CDC updated guidance for doctors to better identify patients who should be tested. The revisions would widen the group of symptomatic patients, which unfortunately means nothing without the appropriate testing materials. There have been 1,323 cases of coronavirus in the US, according to the latest data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
Himes said health officials told members that there are “hundreds of thousands” of testing kits, but the problem seems to be processing capabilities, which stems from coordination issues between public and private agencies.
“I think most people are going to come out of this very discouraged about where we are, honestly,” Rep. Jason Crow told BuzzFeed News upon exiting the briefing. “We’re not remotely where we need to be. I think one of the biggest problems is that the briefers were not able to tell us what the current testing capacity is.”
“The fact that the top people leading this response can’t tell me where we are sitting here today means we also don’t know what our plan is to get to where we need to be,” Crow added.
Even Republicans expressed their concerns about the delays in testing.
“I am satisfied that they’re working towards trying to get new tests out,” Rep. Will Hurd told reporters. “I wish it would be at a— We all wish it was at a quicker pace than it is.”
The Republican said health experts conducting the briefing did discuss the number of tests available to the public, but he told BuzzFeed News that while he didn’t “want to misspeak on the data,” the availability is increasing and they are working on a plan.
On Wednesday night, President Donald Trump addressed the nation over the crisis and instituted a travel ban from Europe, effective Friday. Himes said the president’s decision to exempt the UK from the ban was “puzzling,” considering it is easily accessible from the rest of Europe.
“Heathrow [Airport] is the single biggest travel hub in Europe, right? So just as a layperson, I don’t understand that,” the representative said.