Monday, May 11, 2020
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BACKGROUND PRESS CALL BY SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIALS ON THE UNITED STATES LEADING THE WORLD IN COVID-19 TESTING
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 11, 2020
BACKGROUND PRESS CALL
BY SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIALS
ON THE UNITED STATES LEADING THE WORLD IN COVID-19 TESTING
2:34 P.M. EDT
MR. GIDLEY: Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for taking the time to join this background briefing regarding COVID-19 testing. The ground rules are as follows: The information on the call is on background and can be attributable to “senior administration officials.” And the content is embargoed until 3:30 Eastern Time.
As a reminder, by participating in the call, you are agreeing to the grounds rules I’ve set forth.
With that, I’ll turn the call over to [senior administration officials].
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you very much. And thank you all for joining us today. So today, the President is going to make several announcements, and I think it will just show the continued lead that America has had in testing throughout the world. Today we’re saying that America has been leading the world is COVID testing. We’re going to show you some of the numbers relative to the rest of the world.
The President is also going to announce that we’re getting $11 billion out to the states. We’re going to do that very quickly, and that’s money that we were able to secure in the CARES Act. And that will help the states continue to ramp up their testing capabilities at a dramatic scale.
We’ve heard a lot of talking back and forth about who’s in charge of testing, how it should work, people pointing fingers. But the reality is, is that it has been a real partnership between the federal government and the states.
[Senior administration official] will go through, in a minute, some of the different steps that we’ve taken to enable the ecosystem of testing to be created through federal approvals, through the Defense Product Act, through figuring out the supply chain. But the reality is, today, that there’s a lot of tests out there in the market, and we’ve been working with the states.
What we’ve done over the last couple of weeks is we’ve had multiple conference calls with each state -- most of the time the governors, sometimes the chief operating officers in the state -- to go through what their goals were for the month of May. And they set some pretty ambitious goals, and we’ve been able to work with them to now fully supply them for what they’re going to need in order to perform the amount of tests that they want in the month of May.
So I think we’re in a place now where everyone has what they need through the scientific development of tests, through the FDA’s approval of tests, through the working the supply chain to create enough swabs, transport media, reagents in order to conduct the tests. And now we’re also sending out $11 billion to the states. We can get you all, in advance, a quick breakdown of which state is going to be getting how much money. And I think that that’s a good outcome.
As of yesterday, last evening, we were at about 8.9 million tests performed in America. So as of today, we probably passed 9 million early this morning. And we believe that later this week we’ll pass 10 million tests performed.
So if you look at America’s testing relative to other countries in the world, we really -- we’ve done a tremendous number, and that number is starting to accelerate even quicker. And there’s a new test that was basically approved today, and that will allow us to get our scale going even larger and at a faster rate.
So with that, I’m going to hand it over to [senior administration official]. And again, I think this is just good information. All the states have now set, you know, pretty good goals. And by working together with the federal government, we’re supporting them. And we believe that they should be able to significantly increase the amount of testing they’ll be doing in the month of May, and then we’ll continue to raise those numbers as we get to June, July, and beyond.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So, thank you. As [senior administration official], as of yesterday, we surpassed 8.9 million tests performed. And certainly today, we will be well over the 2 million -- the 9 million mark in total testing.
Last week, we performed over 1.9 million tests, which shows our continued acceleration. And as we’ve all stated before, testing has always been important, but right now it’s where it’s really important as we reopen America back up, which is why our testing has ramped to meet the full demands that we need.
How did we get here? Well, I think a major part of it is the FDA has done a fantastic job in authorizing new tests. There’s been 79 diagnostic tests that have been authorized on 25 different testing devices. Now, many of these diagnostic tests are ones that are performed in the laboratory, like the large reference laboratories that has been the foundation of America’s testing. But they’re also point-of-care tests, like the Abbott tests, which is now providing 1.4 million per month point-of-care tests. And the Cepheid test, which is very important for rural areas and places like in the outer parts of Alaska, they’ve just surpassed their 2 millionth test shipped.
A major advance just came on Friday with the authorization of the first antigen test. This is different than the nucleic acid tests, which are very high complexity, requires the amplification of the genetic material. The antigen test really looks for the presence of the viral protein in the nose.
And what’s important by this is that it’s a different class of test. This was approved -- authorized by a company called Quidel. And within just a couple weeks, they will be able to put 300,000 of these tests on the market every single day. So do the math. That’s 9 million extra point-of-care tests that will be available every month. And the machines for these tests -- there are already 20,000 of them out in the United States because they’re a commonly used platform for things like flu testing and strep throat.
In addition to those, there’s been 12 serology tests authorized. And as we all have understood now, this does not diagnose the infection, but it diagnoses a past infection by the detection of your immune response or antibodies.
We are learning what these tests means as we move forward, but as of this week, the federal government is also sponsoring a pilot program in both New York City and Detroit. New York -- over 120,000 serology tests will be done on hospital workers and first responders to get a good idea of what the experience has been with different infections.
As [senior administration official] said, we are also announcing $11 billion being sent to the states. This is to directly support testing. States will be providing to us, within just a couple of weeks, a full testing program, where we have asked them to supply their strategy and specific deliverables and goals to test not only those who need a diagnosis because they’re sick, but also for contact tracing and surveillance of those in the community, because we know there’s quite a bit of asymptomatic carriage of this of virus. And if you’re asymptomatic, you may still be able to spread it.
We want to focus on high-risk communities, like nursing homes; like inner-city areas, where the housing requires close non-spacing. So the states will doing that. And $11 billion -- this is being distributed by formula, part based on the burden of COVID-19 disease and part based on the population-based estimates.
So with that introduction, we’ll all be available for questions. I’ll turn it over to [senior administration official].
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you. As you all know, we have been working with the states over the past several months, and especially intently over the past several weeks, to significantly ramp up their state testing efforts. As part of that, we’ve had a number of one-on-one calls with each of the 50 states, plus a number of the territories.
As part of those calls, what we’ve asked each state is, “How many tests are you trying to do in May?” And one of the things we will be talking about today is that we’re going to be able to help fully supply the states to hit their goals for May.
And, in general, what we’re going to be doing is providing them with the exact number of supplies that they ask for, in terms of specimen collection. And I’ll talk through how we’re going to do the specimen collection supplies, which will be coming directly from the federal government, which is in addition to what’s already in the commercial market. And then I’ll talk separately about the lab testing supplies. But we will be directly providing the specimen collection supplies.
The two caveats we had to the states’ goals were if a state had a pretty low number of tests, we said, “Hey, we’re comfortable with whatever your goal wants to be, but we want to have it -- we’re going to send you supplies for at least a minimum of 2 percent of your state’s population to be tested in May.” And if a state had a really ambitious goal -- let’s say 10 times the number of tests that they’ve done to date -- we said, “Hey, we’re going to give four times the total number of tests that you’ve done for year to date just for the month of May.” We’re holding, as we’ll talk about, several million extra specimen-collection kits in reserve. And if a state gets to that 4x goal, we’ll be ready to distribute additional supplies to them. So we are going to be able to meet all the goals that the states have set out.
What we have already begun is sending these specimen collection supplies out to the states. So that actually started last week. Every state has received initial shipments, and those are in the process of going out, and we’ll be talking later today about the specific numbers tied to that.
In addition to making sure that folks have the specimen collection supplies, we’re also making sure they have the appropriate lab testing capacity to run those specimens after they’re collected.
As we’ve shared before, there are over 5,000 machines across the country that can run these tests. We have a tremendous amount of testing capacity. Another really important part is making sure that those machines have all the supplies they need, like reagents, extraction kits, PCR kits to run.
And so what we’ve been working on with each state is we’ve been able to work with the manufacturers to figure out how much total lab testing supplies -- reagents, et cetera -- are available in the country. It’s well more than the number of the goals that the states have set out for May. And we have been working with those suppliers to make sure that each state is getting enough lab testing supplies to more than exceed their goal for the month of May.
In this case, the federal government is not purchasing those reagents and extraction kits. We are instead -- because it’s a small group of manufacturers -- connecting the manufacturers directly to the states so that the states can purchase those manufacturing kits. And again, we’ll be walking through some of the numbers later today.
But, with that, I’ll turn it back over to Hogan.
MR. GIDLEY: Thanks, everybody. Just as a reminder, before we get to questions, that the information on the call is on background and can be attributable to “senior administration officials.” And the content is embargoed until 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time.
Thank you very much. And, with that, we’ll open it up for questions.
Q Hi, guys. David Lim with Politico here. Really quick: When you guys are talking about the numbers that states are doing, are you talking about public health labs? And then, can you break out what your expectations are for commercial laboratories for May? Is it any different than what has been announced by ACLA, Quest, and LabCorp, et cetera?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This is [senior administration official]. I can take first shot. So when we're working with the states towards their testing goal, we're looking for the total amount of testing that’s occurring in the state, and that testing could be processed through a public health lab. And in some states, that’s a really meaningful portion; in other states, that’s a pretty small portion that some of the testing could be processed through the regional labs -- say, at universities or other private labs -- and then some of that will be processed through the large national commercial labs.
We're working with each state to make sure, depending on the resources they have in the state, what the mix of those three parts are. But when we think about the testing goals, it's been the total amount of testing happening in the state, not just what the public health labs are doing.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah. We've also significantly increased the community testing rollouts, so you're seeing a lot of the CVS, Rite Aid. Those testing centers have really been opening up very quickly, and they're going to continue to at a fast pace. But the goal is that we've now given the tools to the states -- in some cases, just supplies; in some cases, education; in some place, helping them identify how to build a mosaic with all of the different avenues available to them to complete their testing goals.
And as states showed that they're able to get to these elevated levels of testing, if they want to be even more ambitious, we have open lines of communication and we'll work with them in partnership to help them achieve the goals that they set out to do.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And just to clarify what [senior administration official] said too, to build on that, is that we will be sending out sufficient supplies for every state to achieve those parameters. So that’s 12.9 million swabs and almost 10 million tubes of media, but there are still lots in the public -- in the commercial marketplace that people can still access. And if you access tests through Quest and LabCorp, it should be 5 million tests. They come with all of their full supplies already. So we really have quite of bit of supplies in the system to meet the states' testing goals.
Q Hey there, everybody. Thank you. The Vice President recommended that states start testing nursing home residents for COVID. Why can't the fed simply order nursing homes to do this? And why is this being done now, and not two months ago when the virus was racing through the Washington State nursing home?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So, right now, what we've been doing is working with all the states to get them what they need to deal with their local populations. We've asked them to put an emphasis on elderly populations the entire time. We've pointed that out very early. And if the states aren’t able to come back with plans quickly to do it, then there’s a good chance we will order them to do that. But we believe that, right now, there is plenty of tests out there.
You're noticing a lot of the governors who have been a little hostile to the administration, now, all of a sudden, they're saying, "Oh, we're figuring out how to do testing." It's not a miracle. It's not that all of a sudden they've figured it out; it's that we've held we their hand and we've helped them get the supplies they need, and we've explained to them how to do it. And so now a lot of them are starting to take credit.
So what we'll find is that we're also giving best practices that we're sharing. And one of the best ways to use the testing is to ring-fence the vulnerable populations and to make sure you're doing surveillance on asymptomatics preemptively so that we don’t end up in a position where we have these spreads like we've had to date.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We've been working with nursing homes since the beginning. You talked about the nursing in home in Washington. I had 36 public health officers go there to physically man the nursing home and test all the residents who were there. There's been multiple CDC teams dispatched to multiple nursing home outbreaks.
We've also supported governors, for example, to do mobile testing in nursing homes. And one of the reasons that we have allocated it -- and it's now over 235,000 Abbott ID NOW tests to the public health labs -- is because that's what they should be doing, using those to investigate nursing home outbreaks and other outbreaks. So we've fully supplied them to do that, and we know that that has happened.
But as [senior administration official] said, if there needs to be a heavier hand in moving into the future, I don’t think there will be, but we're always prepared to do that.
Q Hey there. I was wondering if White House staffers can get tested two to three times a week, and sometimes daily, what about meat production workers? Has the administration coordinated with those factories, which were pressured by President Trump to open using the DPA, to test workers every few days? Has the White House been coordinating with them on that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, so we've been working with CDC and with a lot of the local industries to make sure that we're getting tests and supplies and PPE out to essential workers.
I think that, obviously, you know, we need to make sure keep the President of the United States safe and secure so we're taking probably extra precautions here at the White House. But we're working with all vulnerable populations and with industries that are essential, and we've been dealing with them on a case-by-case basis to make sure that we surge supplies and preventative equipment wherever needed.
Q Hello, this is Toby Capion from EWTN. Quick question; it has to do with the speed of getting the test results. It seemed like, early on, people complained that even if they were able to take a test, they wouldn’t get the results back for several days, and by then, maybe they’d infected more people. So as you’ve tracked the speed of those test results, how have those metrics improved over the past couple of months, or have they not improved?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Of course, the point-of-care test are point of care and they’re 15 minutes. I think you’re referring primarily to the large reference labs. At the beginning of the pandemic, there could have been backlogs up to four to five days. Now we know the turnaround is generally within 24 hours, and certainly within 48 hours, and that is a great milestone. If somebody needs a more rapid test, it should be done within the local hospital or at the point of care.
And I think it’s absolutely incorrect to say that they were waiting, therefore they went and infected other people. The guidance was very clear: If you thought you were exposed, you needed to stay at home and quarantine yourself. There should be no reason that a person who got a test and thought they were potentially infected or suspected of infection should not have been at home. So that should not have caused any issues with the transmission of the virus.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And I would say in addition to that, as we go forward, one of things we’ve been working with governors around is making sure that they ramp up different regional labs within their state, which should also decrease things like transport time and things like that or specimen as well.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah. And one other things I’ll say is if we -- you know, we’ve been following very closely what’s happening in other countries. And again, we have, you know, a very large volume of tests relative to other countries. And obviously, one of the great things about the federal model is that we’re seeing different states deploy tests qui- -- differently, right?
So, you know, we -- what we’ve been doing is supplying a lot of tests to the marketplace. They come in different forms and kinds, and they’re distributed in different ways. But the -- but the reality is, is that a lot of the different states are doing it in a way where they’re making sure they’re putting the faster tests in places that need the faster results, and they’re trying to create the right mosaic to help secure the populations.
Q Hi, this is Sean Lyngass from a publication called CyberScoop. I’m getting in touch because my question is about reports that the FBI and DHS are preparing to blame Chinese hackers for attempting to steal coronavirus research in the U.S. And I’m wondering if you could comment on the importance of doing that and what implications it might have for the bilateral relationship. Thank you.
MR. GIDLEY: Yeah, that’s -- I appreciate the question. That’s something you can reach out to the Press Office about. We’ll definitely handle that question. Let’s stick to the topic here and we can -- we can discuss the Chinese piece from our office a little bit later on. Thanks a lot.
Q Hi. Thanks or doing the call. One quick question to clarify: Where is the $11 billion coming from?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This is money that was -- that was authorized and appropriated in the CARES Act.
Q Okay. And the President tweeted more than 120 times yesterday. Very little of the tweets that he sent out had anything to do with coronavirus. I’m wondering why he’s tweeting about “Obamagate” and not testing, when the White House says that the focus right now is on testing.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Right. Well, yesterday we did almost 300,000 tests. So -- and again, I think the day before that, it was the same. And I think the day before that, it was the same.
So there's been a large focus on this, and the President has been leading the effort. And I can assure you, in his phone calls with staff and with different focuses that he’s had for the last -- for the last bit, it’s really been on making sure that we do everything possible to make the testing as robust and widespread as possible by supporting the governors to allow them to expand rapidly. And that’s what we've done.
Q Hello. Thank you. When are you going to actually release the metrics of the $11 billion, like the -- you know, how you came to the -- how this is actually being distributed, as well as do you ever plan to put out any real metrics on the Opening Up plan? Because that’s been the complaints, that there’s no real metrics out there about that. And then, in addition, when we release the details of how remdesivir was actually distributed to the states, if you could provide how you came to, you know, which states got it and when. Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Right. So we’ll keep this conversation focused on the testing for now. But right now, I think in the next day or two, we’re going to release, kind of, the detail behind the money. Again, the money didn’t have to go out for a while. We were really trying to expedite it to get it out to the states because, right now, testing is a big function.
What we’re finding again is different states are doing this in different ways. I think there is a lot of states that have an under 10 percent positivity rate, which means that 9 out 10 people who go for tests, who think they need tests, turn out to be negative. And in a lot of states, as well, you have a sub 5 percent positivity rate.
So what we’re finding is, is that a lot of the states are applying their testing metrics differently. I think the guidelines to open up really were meant to be that. They were meant to be guidelines.
But we’re seeing a lot of the governors, you know, follow those in different ways. People are dialing -- they're dialing up, they're dialing back. But they’re trying to figure out how to smartly adjust to the new normal. And we’re doing our job at the federal government to give them as many tools as possible to allow people to open up in a safe manner.
MR. GIDLEY: Thanks, everybody. We really appreciate it. And just as a reminder, the information on the call is on background, attributable to “senior administration officials,” and it’s embargoed until 3:30. Thanks so much.
END 2:58 P.M. EDT
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