US Vice President Mike Pence speaks during the daily briefing on the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, in the Brady Briefing Room at the White House on April 6, 2020, in Washington, DC.
Mandel Ngan | AFP | Getty Images
Vice President Mike Pence on Sunday said the problems surrounding the delayed coronavirus tests from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control at the beginning of the nation’s outbreak were resolved by early February.
On Saturday, The Washington Post reported that the CDC’s coronavirus testing kits were delayed due to “a glaring scientific breakdown” at the agency’s central lab. The error was “devastating to the country” and “really a terrible black mark on the CDC,” James Le Duc, a former CDC officer, told The Post.
Pence, speaking with NBC’s “Meet the Press,” said he saw the reports but believes the issues surrounding that particular test were resolved by early February. He added that those “slow, lab-based tests” that are typically conducted by the CDC and the states’ public health labs would “never have been able to meet the testing in this coronavirus epidemic.”
When the coronavirus outbreak first began spreading across the U.S. in February, the CDC sent initial test kits to public health labs in states across the country. The CDC later said those test kits were problematic and might not deliver accurate results.
As a result of the CDC’s faulty test kits, local clinicians had to send individual samples into public health labs or directly to the CDC in Atlanta to perform the test, delaying testing and results for Americans who thought they were infected. Some states like New York sought emergency approval to use their own test kits.
The CDC facilities that assembled the initial testing kits “violated sound manufacturing practices, resulting in contamination of one of the three test components used in the highly sensitive detection process,” the Post reported.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration told CNBC on Saturday that the “CDC did not manufacture its test consistent with its own protocol,” according to a spokeswoman. The agency “was not able to determine from information provided by the CDC whether the test issues were due to a design or manufacturing issue,” the spokeswoman said.
To ramp up testing, the FDA issued emergency authorization for coronavirus tests made by Roche, Lab Corp. and Quest Diagnostics in early March. Pence said Trump was “so right” to form this consortium to meet the demand of coronavirus tests and that the administration plans to expand testing going forward for the nation in the weeks and months ahead.
“From that time in February, we had done some 20,000 tests total across the country. Now we’ve done more than 4 million, and we believe we’ll have done more than 5 million by the end of this month,” Pence told NBC.
When asked whether 5 million test by the end of April, nearly 2% of the population, would be considered a success, Pence said the administration has “laid a strong foundation for testing for phase one.” He said that there are enough tests for any governor who meets the 14-day criteria of declining case numbers outlined by the White House to move into phase one and begin reopening their state’s economy.
Experts have warned, however, against opening the country before widespread testing is available. Some say that as many as 20 to 30 million people per day will need tested before nation can return to a semblance of economic normality. There are currently more than 150,000 tests being conducted per day, Pence said, but that number could “double” once laboratories across the country are activated.
NBC News reported that Democratic lawmakers in calls Thursday with President Donald Trump insisted that he wait until there is widespread testing available before he pushes to reopen the nation. However, Trump indicated such an economic reopening would have to occur before an expansion of testing levels.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan told CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday that the administration’s claims that states have adequate testing capacity is “absolutely false.”
“The administration I think is trying to ramp up testing, they are doing some things with respect to private labs, but to try to push this off to say that the governors have plenty of testing and they should just to get to work on testing, somehow we are not doing our job — is just absolutely false,” Hogan said.
— CNBC’s Dan Mangan and Anna Hecht contributed to this report.