March 12 (UPI) -- A top Trump administration official told lawmakers at a congressional hearing Thursday that government efforts are failing so far to provide Americans easy and accessible testing for the coronavirus disease.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, made the remarks at a hearing of the House oversight committee to detail the federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Questioned by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz , D-Fla., about reports of nurses not having access to tests, Fauci said, "The idea of anybody getting [the test] easily the way people in other countries are doing it, we're not set up for that. Do I think we should be? Yes, but we're not."
"The system is not really geared to what we need right now -- what you are asking for. That is a failing. ... Let's admit it," he added.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported 1,215 U.S. cases of the coronavirus and 36 deaths, as of Wednesday afternoon. Johns Hopkins University, which is keeping a more current tally, listed U.S. cases at more than 1,300 and deaths at 38 by mid-Thursday. It also says eight patients have recovered in California, Illinois, Arizona, Massachusetts, Washington state and Wisconsin.
CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield also testified Thursday, and said 44 states now have confirmed cases.
U.S. testing for the coronavirus has so far lagged behind other nations, according to data compiled by Oxford University. The total number of tests in South Korea are at a rate nearly 25 times higher than they are being given in the United States. Britain has conducted three times as many tests with fewer overall cases, the data said.
Redfield said the CDC is capable of processing as many as 350 tests per day -- far fewer than some privately-owned labs, which can process thousands daily.
The CDC director testified earlier at a House budget hearing that insufficient funding levels are responsible for the government's response to the pandemic. Initial testing efforts suffered a setback due to quality control issues with the first tests the CDC sent out.
Hours before Thursday's hearing, the House and Senate sergeants-at-arms announced the U.S. Capitol would close to the public for the rest of March in an effort to mitigate the spread of the virus. The closure was set to take effect at 5 p.m. EDT Thursday.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said he "fully supported" the decision, which will also close the House and Senate office buildings to the public. Only those conducting official business and media members were being allowed to enter. Later Thursday, McConnell announced Congress will delay its forthcoming recess, which had been scheduled for next week, to work on legislation to provide additional coronavirus relief.