Trump seeks to broaden virus testing; confusion persists

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration scrambled Friday to broaden testing for the coronavirus with a flurry of new measures, and public confusion persisted over who should be tested and how to get checked for the disease.

Federal officials announced a new “testing czar,” emergency approval of a new high-volume testing system and a hotline for resource-stretched labs.

Those moves came a day after one of the government’s top health officials called the initial testing effort “a failing” and health care professionals, politicians and patients across the country complained about lack of access to testing in the U.S.

Only last week, President Donald Trump told Americans that “anybody who wants a test can get a test.” Vice President Mike Pence, who’s leading a coronavirus task force, and other officials later acknowledged that they are still trying to achieve widespread access.

But it’s become clear that testing is being squeezed by the limited number of labs running the COVID-19 tests and confusion among health care workers over who can be tested.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tells people to seek testing if they have certain symptoms of the flu-like illness caused by the coronavirus – fever, cough and trouble breathing – and if they have traveled recently to a coronavirus outbreak area or have been in close contact with someone who’s been infected.

Ultimately, it’s up to the doctor to decide who should get tested.

In many states, health officials have parroted the CDC guidance when telling doctors who to test. But in some states, officials have varied a bit, depending on a range of factors, including availability of tests and whether the virus is known to be spreading there.

A New York man said he ran into hurdles trying to get tested after the death of a business associate who was infected with the coronavirus. Joseph Faraldo said he began feeling ill earlier this month and tested negative for the flu. He said he called the state health department and “they were useless,” and then the city health department failed to call him back as promised.

His doctor sent him to a clinic where he was tested Wednesday. He expects results Friday.

“I think I was pretty lucky, they told me come on in,” Faraldo said.

The CDC is also telling doctors to give priority to the elderly or those who have health conditions that make them more vulnerable to COVID-19, which can cause pneumonia. Doctors are also supposed to prioritize medical workers or others who have been in contact with a confirmed case.