The official who until recently oversaw the nation’s COVID-19 testing efforts told U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette on Tuesday that contrary to President Donald Trump’s repeated public statements, he was never pressured to decrease coronavirus testing.
“Neither the president nor anyone in the administration has instructed or suggested we should do less testing," said Admiral Brett Giroir. “We are proceeding in just the opposite.”
From March until June, Giroir was the “testing czar,” beginning in the position when the country was only performing 5,247 tests per week, NPR reported. He is now a Deputy Assistant Secretary at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that during the week of June 7-13, there were 1.6 million COVID-19 tests given. The CDC deemed it the 24th week of testing data, but the period accounted for greater than one in 10 of the total tests conducted during the pandemic.
The morning of the hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Trump tweeted that, “Cases are going up in the U.S. because we are testing far more than any other country, and ever expanding. With smaller testing we would show fewer cases!”
The tweet mirrored comments he made at an indoor rally with minimal mask wearing over the weekend, in which he claimed he gave an order to “slow the testing down.”
“Do you think that it’s a good or a bad idea to do less testing so it will look like we have fewer cases?” DeGette asked.
“My purpose in leading is to increase the number of testing,” Giroir responded. “It’s the only way we will be able to understand who has the disease, who is infected, and can pass it and do appropriate contract tracing.”
Also testifying on the panel was Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease. DeGette questioned him on reports of COVID-19 infections increasing without a corresponding increase in deaths. She wondered if that was due to cases among younger people, who are less likely to die from the disease.
“Should we see this as a positive sign or should we still be worried?” DeGette asked.
“I think it’s too early to make that kind of link. Deaths always lag considerably behind cases,” Fauci replied. “The concern is if those cases then infect people who wind up getting sick or in the hospital, it is conceivable you may see deaths going up. So I think it’s too early to say.”
CDC data show that testing is five times more prevalent among those over 65 than it is for people aged 18-49.
Fauci added that he was “cautiously optimistic” that there would be a vaccine by the beginning of 2021, despite the process usually taking years for discovering successful vaccines.