Coronavirus chief says there is no way on Earth U.S. can test 5 million a day

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President Donald Trump said he thought the United States could “very soon” test 5 million people a day for coronavirus – but there is “no way on Earth”, the country can achieve this , according to the highest government test official.

“There is absolutely no way on Earth, on this planet or any other planet, that we can do 20 million tests a day, or even five million tests a day,” said Amm. Brett Giroir, assistant secretary of health in charge of the government’s response to the tests, told TIME in an interview he gave Tuesday morning and published later that evening. The interview took place before Trump’s remarks about the tests.

The United States will be able to test 8 million a month by May, Giroir told Time.

Giroir responded to the findings of a new study. Harvard University released a report last week that the United States should increase its testing capacity to at least 5 million tests a day in early June, and 20 million a day in late July, to reopen the economy. Giroir told TIME that the assessment is “an ivory tower, an unreasonable benchmark,” adding that it is not necessary based on current modeling.

Trump, interviewed Tuesday at a press conference on the 5 million figure, said, “We will be there very soon. “

The U.S. has only completed 5.7 million Covid-19 tests in total since the start of the pandemic, according to data compiled by the Covid Tracking Project. The nation’s highest number of tests in a single day was 314,182 on April 22, according to the volunteer project designed to track test data launched last month by The Atlantic.

Representatives from the Department of Health and Social Services did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The United States continues to increase testing capacity, as commercial companies increase test production. The Food and Drug Administration has also granted emergency use authorization for several new tests that analyze blood and saliva samples, which may be more effective than standard diagnostic tests, which rely on a nasal swab.

The ability to test Covid-19 extensively will be essential to preventing a resurgence of the virus as states relax the restrictions and reopen businesses, public health experts and government officials have repeatedly said.

Official White House test data shows that 5.1 million Americans were tested on Monday, up from 3.3 million on April 15, according to Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.

“The United States has double the number of tests in every country in the world,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in a statement after Trump said on Tuesday. “We have exceeded all expectations and continue to lead the world in capacity testing as we help governors ensure they have the ability to reopen their states safely. “

When asked to comment on Giroir’s interview on Wednesday, the White House sent the same press secretary’s statement it sent on Tuesday evening.

Trump’s detractors have addressed national shortages of effective coronavirus tests, test supplies and laboratories capable of treating test results as a central failure of the federal government’s response to the deadly pandemic. Trump rejected this criticism.

“The states, not the federal government, should do the tests,” he said in a tweet last week.

On Monday, the administration released a new test “blueprint” describing what it called a “partnership” between states, the federal government and the private sector. The so-called partnership, however, had a very limited role for the federal government and left the lion’s share of the responsibility for funding, designing and implementing coronavirus testing plans in different states.

– Kevin Breuninger and Christina Wilkie of CNBC contributed to this report.

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