‘I Don’t Take Responsibility,’ Trump Says of Virus Test Shortage

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump said he doesn’t accept responsibility for a scarcity of coronavirus tests available in the U.S. after state officials complained patients with symptoms couldn’t get screened.

“I don’t take responsibility at all,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Friday. “We were given a set of circumstances and we were given rules and regulations and specifications from a different time -- it wasn’t meant for this kind of event with the kind of numbers that we’re talking about.”

Trump said his administration has revamped those rules and that “we’ll have the ability to do in the millions over a very very quick period of time.”

While some other countries did immediate and widespread testing to identify those with the virus, the U.S. did not. That means people who were positive for the virus and didn’t know it may not have taken steps to prevent others from getting ill.

Governors reported frustration with a lack of tests made available by the federal government. With more than 1,200 confirmed cases in the country, public-health experts criticized how the White House has responded.

“This is an unmitigated disaster that the administration has brought upon the population, and I don’t say this lightly,” says Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute. “We have had a much worse response than Iran, than Italy, than China and South Korea.”

The administration decided against using a test already in use by the World Health Organization and instead developed its own version. The U.S.’s resulting coronavirus test contained a faulty component that led to many inconclusive results. It took several weeks to correct that.

Initial American guidelines for testing were also narrow, instructing hospitals and doctors to screen only people who had respiratory symptoms and had either traveled in China recently or come into close contact with someone who had been infected. In California, Oregon, and Washington state, the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, those limits may have left undetected the virus’s spread to people who did not fall into those categories.

On Friday, Trump said private companies were preparing to roll out widespread availability of tests.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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