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Gov’t virus testing will prioritize medical staff, elderly

National

The federal government’s effort to rapidly expand testing for the coronavirus will initially focus on screening health care workers and the elderly, Trump administration officials said Sunday.

Broad-scale testing is a critical part of tracking and containing pandemics.

But the U.S. effort has been hobbled by a series of missteps, including flaws with the testing kits first distributed by the federal government and bureaucratic hurdles that held up testing by private laboratories.

Two days after President Donald Trump previewed a nationwide network of drive-thru testing sites coordinated by a Google-designed website, his deputies fleshed out a more measured effort coordinated by state and federal emergency personnel. Priority for testing would go to medical professionals and senior citizens with symptoms in an effort to avoid “paralyzing” the U.S. health system.

“It’s important the tests are available for the people who are most in need and our health care workers and first-responders that are helping and supporting them,” said Vice President Mike Pence.

After Trump’s speech Friday in the Rose Garden it quickly became clear that a seamless, fast-track testing system was not ready for prime time. Google clarified that its efforts were still in “early stages” and retail giants including Target said they were still working to identify spaces that could serve as testing sites.

Instead, Brett Giroir, a senior health administration official, said the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other members of the U.S. public health system would coordinate with states to set up community testing centers. Trump tapped Giroir, assistant secretary for health, to become testing “czar” earlier this week amid growing complaints about the slow U.S. rollout.

Giroir told reporters that each site would be capable to testing 2,000 to 4,000 people per day. He said the federal government would begin deploying Monday, under increased funding and authorities granted though Trump’s declaration of a national emergency.

“You will see these sites rolling out progressively over the week,” Giroir said. “This is not make believe, this is not fantasy.”

Because of the lack of nationwide testing, public health experts have warned that the coronavirus is likely spreading undetected in parts of the U.S. A surge in COVID-19 cases could quickly overwhelm intensive care units at U.S. hospitals.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The worldwide outbreak has sickened more than 156,000 people and left more than 5,800 dead. The death toll in the United States is more than 50, while infections neared 3,000 across 49 states and the District of Columbia.

The vast majority of people recover. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three weeks to six weeks to recover.

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