NEW: @PressSec Kayleigh McEnany says there will be no briefing today, despite WH guidance released last night. 4p event w/ retail execs will open to pool. There will be some briefings later in the week, she said, but they “might have a new look to them, a new focus to them.”
— Betsy Klein (@betsy_klein) April 27, 2020
UPDATE: The White House has additional testing guidance and other announcements about safely opening up America again. President @realDonaldTrump will brief the nation during a press conference this evening.
— Kayleigh McEnany (@PressSec) April 27, 2020
Is there news on testing, specifically testing capacity? That would be legit cause for a presidential announcement. The reference to “guidance” suggests something else, though, like maybe the CDC formally endorsing certain criteria or symptoms to help doctors prioritize who should be tested. Setting guidelines for a de facto queue would be a bad sign at a moment where we’re aiming to reach enough capacity that everyone who thinks they need a test can have one.
Presumably Trump will speak from a script and keep it short and sweet, without a Q&A portion, as happened on Friday. I’ll stick with my prediction that he won’t be back to jousting with the media for two hours until Thursday at the earliest.
Anthony Fauci said at a meeting over the weekend that we should try to at least double testing capacity before the country reopens, although he’s optimistic that we can get there “in the next several weeks.” One size doesn’t fit all, though. Stat looked at the severity of the epidemic in all 50 states and concluded that some states are much closer than others to running the number of daily tests they’d need in order to detect outbreaks quickly once they reopen.
States harder hit by the pandemic face a much heavier lift: New York would have to do 130,000 to 155,000 tests every day, New Jersey 75,000 to 90,000, and both Massachusetts and Illinois about 30,000 to 35,000.
Many hard-hit states are not even close to their goals. New York, for instance, has been averaging barely more than 20,000 tests per day since mid-April. New Jersey has been doing about 7,000, on average. Neither has announced reopening plans or dates, giving them time to ramp up testing. Massachusetts and Illinois are in no better shape, conducting just under 7,000 a day. Michigan, Connecticut, and Colorado are all about 15,000 tests a day below their May 1 targets. Texas, with more than 9,000 tests a day, and Washington state, with more than 3,000, are already doing enough.
The more worrisome gap involves states that, despite having thousands of Covid-19 cases, are easing mitigation strategies by, for instance, allowing more businesses and public spaces such as beaches to reopen. To catch hot spots before they turn into wildfires of disease, Georgia must do 9,600 to 10,000 tests per day; it has been averaging around 4,000. Florida will need 16,000; in the last week it has been hitting just above 10,000.
Thorough testing would include enough people such that only three percent or so of tests come back positive. Adequate testing, which is what we’re aiming at, would bring back 10 percent positive. The rate we’re currently at typically finds 20 percent positive each day. Note that Georgia, which has already reopened in a limited fashion, is at less than half of the capacity it needs to feel confident that it’s catching new outbreaks as they happen. Scott Gottlieb also warned about that yesterday:
ANALYSIS: “Georgia is certainly not out of the woods,” @ScottGottliebMD tells @margbrennan and that the state continues to see increases in #coronavirus cases as the state is set to reopen sectors of its economy. “Georgia is jumping the gun,” he adds. pic.twitter.com/ccq6LSOUqL
— Face The Nation (@FaceTheNation) April 26, 2020
Deborah Birx was asked yesterday about testing too and mentioned the need for a technological “breakthrough,” specifically in the form of a test that can deliver positive results by detecting antigens. You know what those look like: You swab someone, you pop the swab into a chemical solution, then you apply the solution to some chemically treated strips. If the strips react, voila — you’ve got COVID. You don’t need to wait days for your test result in that case since there’s no need for any fancy lab machinery to process the sample. Antigen tests merely detect viral proteins, not the virus’s genetic material; they’re quick and cheap — once we figure out how to do them. For what it’s worth, despite weeks of political chatter about the need for testing, this call for a “breakthrough” is the first I’d heard of a top official like Birx insisting that that’s the necessary next step in ramping up capacity. Maybe she and Fauci were holding out hope that we could double capacity via labs by producing more swabs and reagents, etc, and have now written that off as a fantasy. It’d be nice if we could wait to reopen until antigen tests were widely available. But we can’t, so here we are, praying for deus ex machinas.
Update: USA Today has seen the “blueprint” the White House will announce tonight but is vague on details. Sounds like it’s a proposal for a federal/state partnership of some sort:
The blueprint outlines the federal government’s role in assisting states with access to testing platforms, increasing testing and laboratory supplies as well as enhancing sample collection, according to a copy of the plan reviewed by USA TODAY…
The challenging complexity of testing for the virus, combined with the different “platforms” in each state, is the reason it has taken as long as it has to develop the system. One official said it is a “miracle” the blueprint has been developed as quickly as possible.
Officials said they are putting responsibility on the states, which are already administering the tests. The federal government’s role is to provide supplies, they said.
Trump’s also going to discuss the “next generation” of tests, which I assume is a reference to antigen testing.