Mike Pence Won't Say How Many Coronavirus Tests Have Been Conducted

Vice president ducks question the same day national health official Anthony Fauci testified that the nation's dearth of testing remains "a failing."

Vice President Mike Pence ducked a question Thursday about how many coronavirus tests have been carried out after the nation’s top infectious disease doctor, Anthony Fauci, said the dearth of testing remains “a failing” of the nation’s battle against COVID-19.

Pence, whom Trump put in charge of the White House task force on the virus, was pressed on CNN about why the number of tests reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has decreased since March 5 even as cases rise amid urgent calls for more testing

Pence speculated that the CDC was missing tests being carried out by states. Asked, then, what the total was, he responded: “Well, I would leave that to the experts.” (Check out the video above.) Testing is critical to isolate those with coronavirus symptoms, even mild ones, in particular to protect more vulnerable people who could die of COVID-19. 

Pence conceded earlier on CBS that the Trump administration is still working to cut “red tape” holding up testing. “We are going to continue to work in every way to clear out, as the president said, any red tape, any barriers to testing that might have existed” at the Food and Drug Administration, he said on “CBS This Morning.”

Pence had vowed earlier this month that testing would be ramped up but admitted last week that it continued to be outstripped by demand.

The COVID-19 Tracking Project by The Atlantic and a data team, which combines most state tests, estimates 10,000 people have been tested in the U.S. South Korea has tested more than 230,000 people. (Two specimens per person are usually tested, according to The Atlantic, which is why test numbers are larger than the number of people tested.)

Dr. Matt McCarthy, an infectious disease expert and physician at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, early this month blasted the lack of available tests as a “national scandal” and complained that he had to “plead” for tests for sick people in the emergency room. The testing issue should have been addressed immediately in December as news of the coronavirus first emerged, McCarthy said, adding that the “capacity” for testing is increasing but that critical “hurdles” still remain to obtaining the tests.

Initial tests developed by the CDC were flawed and worked in only a handful of labs. In addition, they were initially available only for people returning from China or for those who had contact with an individual known to be ill with coronavirus.

President Donald Trump insisted at an appearance a week ago at the CDC that “anyone that needs a test” for coronavirus could get it. On Thursday, he said “frankly, the testing has been very smooth.” 

Trump also claimed that everyone coming into the U.S. is tested. International travelers are observed for symptoms; their temperature may be taken with a non-contact thermometer, but they’re not tested for the virus.

Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Thursday that the shortage of testing is “a failing.”

The “system is not really geared to what we need right now,” he said. “The idea of anybody getting it easily the way people in other countries are doing it, we’re not set up for that. Do I think we should be? Yes.”

Check out his testimony here: