NIH chief: effort underway to develop wide-scale rapid testing

NIH chief: effort underway to develop wide-scale rapid testing
NIH chief: effort underway to develop wide-scale rapid testing

With more GOP lawmakers in Congress joining Democrats in calling for a dramatic expansion of Coronavirus testing in the United States, a top federal health expert told Senators Thursday that unprecedented efforts are underway to forge a partnership with private companies to produce large scale efforts on virus tests.

"In 27 years at NIH, I honestly have never seen anything move this quickly," said Dr. Francis Collins, the head of the National Institutes of Health.

At a Senate hearing, Collins described breakneck plans to figure out how to ramp up testing, which the NIH chief acknowledged may be an overreach.

Content Continues Below

"I have encountered some stunned expressions," Collins told the Senate's top health committee, as he explained doing something on wide scale rapid testing - in months - might be difficult.

"I must tell you Senators, that this is a stretch goal, that goes well beyond what most experts think will be possible," Collins added.

The hearing began with a bipartisan plea for action on testing, as more and more lawmakers express the concern that by drawing Congress back and forth to Washington each week, members of the House and Senate could be spreading the virus all over the country.

"All roads back to work, and back to school, lead through testing," said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), who earlier this week described the Congress as a possible 'virus spreading machine.'

While Alexander praised the growth in testing - soon expected to reach two million per week - he joined with Collins and other experts in saying that's nowhere near enough.

"We will need tens of millions of tests, many more than our current technologies can produce," Alexander said.

Senators also raised examples back home, whether small fishing villages in Alaska, or towns with meatpacking plants hit by the virus.

"On a rapid test, this is the kind of situation that demands an answer now," said Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS).

"It shouldn't be lost on us how far behind we are on testing," said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), who directly criticized President Trump, noting this NIH effort only began last week - instead of earlier in the virus outbreak.

As the hearing was taking place, news was breaking from the White House that a personal aide for President Trump had tested positive for the Coronavirus.

One reason that may have been discovered is the White House might have the best testing regimen available anywhere in the United States, with rapid test used on those visiting with the President, or working for him.

Mr. Trump had offered similar tests to lawmakers earlier this week, but leaders in both parties suggested those rapid tests be used for medical professionals instead.