May 7 (UPI) -- The U.S. government is working with private companies to make available millions of coronavirus tests with quick results within a few months, National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins told Congress Thursday.
Appearing before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, Collins said he's never seen such a quick undertaking in his 27 years at the NIH, and added that there will be millions of tests by the end of the summer and even more before the start of flu season in the fall.
"I must tell you, senators, this is a stretch goal that goes beyond what most experts think will be possible," he said.
"I have encountered some stunned expressions when describing these goals and this time table to knowledgeable individuals. The scientific and logistical challenges are daunting."
Some public health experts have said widespread COVID-19 testing will be necessary to safely loosen restrictions brought on by the pandemic. In its three-phase plan for "Opening Up America," the White House Task Force recommended states test at least 2 percent of their populations before allowing some non-essential business to resume.
Collins said it's critical for that testing to be done quickly. Much of the current testing requires days for samples to be sent to labs with the proper technology and personnel to analyze them.
The United States needs tests "that do not require hours or days to determine results," Collins told the panel, also noting that new tests "need to be sensitive enough to flag asymptomatic individuals" who have been infected but may not know it.
"Such tests sound like science fiction but are scientifically possible," Collins said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi criticized the task force's three-phase plan for not addressing recommendations from scientists to ensure widespread national rapid testing.
"The president's continued insistence on moving forward without testing, contact tracing, demographic data collection and a respect for science and the facts risks further death and economic disaster," she said last month.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Wednesday it's "simply nonsensical" to test every American for the coronavirus.
"Let's dismiss a myth about tests right now," she said at her second press briefing. "If we tested every single American in this country at this moment, we'd have to retest them an hour later and an hour after that because at any moment you could theoretically contract the virus.
"The notion that everyone needs to be tested is just simply nonsensical."