The United States is “ready to start to open” with the current level of testing, according to Adam Schechter, CEO of coronavirus test manufacturer LabCorp.
Both Democratic and Republican senators on Tuesday lambasted the current level of testing in the U.S. as woefully inadequate to detect pockets of outbreaks as states reopen. A group of economics and medical researchers at Harvard said last month the U.S. needs to ramp up testing capacity to at least 5 million tests a day by early June, and 20 million per day by late July, in order to reopen the economy.
That’s a tall order considering where U.S. coronavirus testing currently stands. An average of 282,000 tests per day over the first 12 days of May were run in the U.S., according to data compiled by the Covid Tracking Project, a volunteer effort founded by reporters at The Atlantic magazine to track Covid-19 testing in the U.S.
Widespread testing will be critical to boosting the confidence of the public and employers to return to work. State and local officials also say it is key to detecting and preventing a resurgence of the virus as states ease restrictions.
“I’m not convinced that we need to have 2 to 3 million tests per day,” Schechter said on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” “I believe that we are ready to start to open up states with the testing that’s available today and that’s only going to increase over the coming weeks.”
The U.S. processed 289,472 tests on Tuesday, according to data compiled by the Covid Tracking Project, and has run nearly 10 million tests in total since the first U.S. case was confirmed in January.
President Donald Trump and some members of the White House coronavirus task force have dismissed lofty estimates for necessary testing as unreasonable. However, early success in containing the epidemic in countries such as South Korea have shown that rapid, accessible and targeted testing are key to stopping local outbreaks before they spread rapidly across the country.
Different parts of the economy will likely need different levels of testing to bring employees back to work, Schechter said.
“I think that it’s still unknown exactly how many tests are going to be needed, but I do think different industries are going to look at testing differently and even certain employers will look at testing differently for certain employees than others,” Schechter said.
LabCorp is already in talks with companies to support their efforts to bring employees back to work, Schechter said. LabCorp will provide Covid-19 screening services for employees, including testing, temperature checks and instituting other preecautions, he said.
“We are going to do everything we possibly can to help employers get employees back to work,” he said.
LabCorp has the capacity to process around 80,000 tests per day, Schechter said, adding that the company is targeting 150,000 diagnosis tests per day by mid-June.
However, laboratory capacity to process tests isn’t the same as the number of tests the company is actually running per day. Schechter said “front-end” limitation on the collection of samples, such as swabs of the nose, have been the “biggest issue” in increasing capacity.
Last month, the company rolled out an at-home sample collection kit that patients can then send into the lab for analysis. It was originally only available to health care workers and first responders, but on Tuesday the company made it accessible to anybody who meets the testing criteria laid out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Schechter said.