KEY POINTS

  • Senate Republicans now publicly disagree with Trump when he boasts, "We have so much testing" 
  • "We need more tests produced," said Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst
  • "There are still shortfalls; I mean, we got to address the shortfalls," Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-WV, said

Republican senators are saying out loud the extent of mass testing for COVID-19 in the United States isn't where it should be -- not by a long shot -- and contradict president Donald Trump's oft repeated claims the U.S. has so much testing available. "We have so much testing," claimed Trump Thursday.

Mass testing is one of the only few known ways to end the COVID-19 pandemic in this country. The U.S. has conducted only 8.1 million tests since February. The White House says its goal is two million tests per week per state by the end of May. Experts say this number is far too few.

The Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, a research center at Harvard University, suggests from five million to 20 million tests per day will be necessary for people to return to work. Another estimate says the U.S. needs 35 million tests per day.

Paul Romer, former chief economist at the World Bank and a co-recipient of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, wants 20 million to 25 million tests per day, and more frequent testing for frontline workers exposed to the coronavirus.

What Senate Republicans want is to help make millions more accurate and easy-to-use tests per week available to all Americans by the end of summer, and even more in time for the flu season.

"We ought to step it up," said Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby, R-AL, to CNN. "We ought to make the test as quickly as we can, accelerate it and do it. I think it's key to getting people back to give them confidence and also ascertaining who is carrying the virus."

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-IA, said the U.S. must ramp-up testing. "We need more tests produced ... because I think consumer confidence would certainly be better if we could be testing out there, get the economy up and going."

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-TN, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said "We need to be producing tens of millions of tests in order to be able to get all the campuses open, 100,000 public schools open. We've never tried to do that before in this country."

"There are still shortfalls; I mean, we got to address the shortfalls," Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-WV, said of testing.

Countries are carrying out more testing in a bid to track the rate of infections Countries are carrying out more testing in a bid to track the rate of infections Photo: AFP / ZINYANGE AUNTONY

Their opinions on testing being the basic requisite for fully reopening the U.S. was validated Thursday by expert testimony from Dr. Francis Collins, director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NHS).

Speaking before Alexander's committee, Dr. Collins admitted shortfalls in existing tests. He told stunned senators one of the rapid coronavirus tests, the Abbott ID Now, has a high 15% "false negative rate." This means some 15% of patients will be told they're negative for COVID-19 when they're in fact positive. There are only 18,000 of those rapid machines performing the 15-minute tests right now, said Dr. Collins.

"If you're in a circumstance where you really, really don't want to miss a diagnosis of somebody who's already carrying the virus, you'd like to have something that has a higher sensitivity than that," said Dr Collins. "And I know they're working on how to make that happen."

Dr. Collins also announced a new program "to help make millions more accurate and easy-to-use tests per week available to all Americans by the end of summer, and even more in time for the flu season."