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Hard-Hit States to Boost Tests of Asymptomatic Young People (2)

July 1, 2020, 5:30 PMUpdated: July 1, 2020, 10:04 PM

Federal health officials are planning “surge testing” of asymptomatic residents in states that have seen a spike of new Covid-19 cases, particularly those 35 years old or younger.

It’s “very clear” new cases are being driven by younger people, Assistant Health Secretary Brett Giroir, who is leading the testing programs, told reporters Wednesday. The strategy is to conduct “the number of tests you’d do in a month in just a few days” to identify potential asymptomatic Covid-19 carriers. Right now, federal officials are trying to organize surge testing with state officials in Texas, Louisiana, and Florida, among others.

Testing entire communities regardless of whether they feel sick will help supplement the data collected through contact tracing, which is difficult to do with outbreaks that don’t appear to be tied to a single facility or event, Giroir said.

States revved up testing in the last couple of months, but there still isn’t enough widespread testing to contain the virus, lawmakers critical of the administration’s testing strategy said at a hearing this week. In some states, like Arkansas, Louisiana, and New Jersey, testing has decreased in the last week, according to Johns Hopkins’ coronavirus research center. Meanwhile, the number of new coronavirus cases in the U.S. continues to climb.

The U.S. did at least 15 million Covid-19 tests in June, Mia Heck, spokeswoman for the assistant secretary for health, said in a statement. The U.S. did a total of 12.7 million tests in May, Heck said. The country’s goal was to do 12.9 million tests in May.

Labs ‘Reaching or Near Capacity’

Giroir acknowledged testing hiccups. Some labs are “reaching or near capacity,” resulting in delayed test results, he said. A bump in testing throughout nursing homes and prisons has left labs more strained than usual. Commercial labs are looking into more efficient ways to test for the virus and are getting more machines. But those labs work autonomously, limiting what the federal government can do to help, he said.

States get federal assistance, but most of that goes to hospitals and universities, he added.

To ease some of the burden for labs, federal officials are pouring more resources into “point of care” tests that can offer results in minutes. Those tests are “very good for many circumstances” but aren’t as reliable as standard lab tests, Giroir said. He expects about 5 million additional point-of-care tests to be available in the U.S. in July.

Even with additional testing, people still need to socially distance themselves from others, wash their hands, and wear a mask if they want to reduce the virus’s spread, health officials say.

New daily cases of Covid-19 could increase to 100,000 a day from its current 40,000 a day rate if people aren’t more cautious, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told senators Tuesday.

People have to have the discipline to make responsible decisions, Giroir said, especially young people. “Testing is critical, but we cannot test our way out of the outbreak.”

—With assistance from Shira Stein

(Updates with HHS testing data in the fifth paragraph.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Jacquie Lee in Washington at jlee1@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Fawn Johnson at fjohnson@bloomberglaw.com; Andrew Childers at achilders@bloomberglaw.com

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