House Oversight Committee Warns U.S. Coronavirus Testing Still 'Remains Far Behind' Other Countries

The House Oversight and Reform Committee sent a letter to Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar and to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield reiterating a previous request for documents about the White House's response to the coronavirus pandemic.

In the letter, which was dated Thursday, the House committee members warned that the U.S. coronavirus testing still "remains far behind" other countries. They noted that doctors and medical professionals were still struggling to access tests for patients that could be infected with the virus. The letter was first reported by Politico.

"We are gravely concerned that, due to multiple missteps, people across the country have been unable to get tested as healthcare providers are being forced to ration the extremely limited number of tests available, significantly degrading our country's ability to conduct accurate modeling of the spread of the virus and endangering the health and safety of the American people," the representatives wrote.

"While other countries are accelerating their testing programs, ours remains far behind as the virus spreads throughout our nation largely undetected and doctors and nurses are forced to turn away people seeking tests even though they may be contagious," the House members pointed out.

Donald Trump, Alex Azar and Robert Redfield
President Donald Trump arrives for a March 9 press conference as Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Robert Redfield and Surgeon General Jerome Adams look on. Drew Angerer/Getty

A spokesperson for the HHS told Newsweek that "the department takes all congressional inquiries very seriously and will respond in a timely fashion." Newsweek has also reached out to the CDC for comment.

The letter's main purpose was to reiterate a previous request from several weeks ago for documents about President Donald Trump's administration's response to the ongoing pandemic. "Given that the Administration's Response Plan does not contain plans for addressing the testing shortage, the Committee is narrowing its previous request to a limited set of information relating to that topic—which is the most urgent and, presumably, should be the most easily accessible," the letter noted.

During a Thursday press conference, Trump attempted to pass the blame for the testing shortage on to state governors. "Governors are supposed to be doing a lot of this work," the president said.

"The federal government is not supposed to be out there buying vast amounts of items and then shipping. We're not a shipping clerk," he insisted. "As with testing, the governors are supposed to be doing it."

But the federal government initially blocked states from moving forward with their own testing, requiring them to use testing kits created by the CDC and approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Those early tests, which the government insisted upon using and not others more widely available through the World Health Organization, also had problems and needed to be sent to the CDC lab in Atlanta for processing. This led to additional delays in determining whether patients had coronavirus.

Only since last Friday, when Trump declared a national emergency, did the federal government also allow states to start seeking out testing alternatives. The government also approved a commercial test that it promised would speed up the process and could be analyzed in labs across the country. Despite these recent adjustments, the U.S. has lagged far behind other countries in rolling out testing quickly and efficiently.

South Korea, which detected its first case of coronavirus on the same day as the U.S., January 20, has tested more than 290,000 people since then, Reuters reported. Comparatively, the U.S. has only tested only about 60,000. About 8,500 infections have been detected in South Korea, while more than 11,000 have now been found in the U.S.

While the U.S. still remains in the dark about how widespread the virus has become across the country, South Korea has managed to flatten its curve by quickly isolating infected patients. Comparatively, South Korea detected 152 new cases on Thursday, while the U.S. had detected more than 2,000.