Frustration rising over lack of access to coronavirus tests

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From left, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Principal Deputy Director Anne Schuchat, National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci, Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Dr. Robert Kadlec, and Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn testify before a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Hearing on the coronavirus on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, March 3, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Frustration over lack of access to coronavirus testing boiled over Tuesday as Trump administration officials sought to reassure skeptical lawmakers the nation will have the capacity for 1 million tests within days.

“I'm hearing from people who are sick, who want to get tested, and don't know where to go,” Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., told senior administration officials at a hearing. Her state has seen a cluster of deaths among patients in a nursing home, and Murray called the situation “unacceptable,” adding that “families deserve to know when testing is going to scale up.”

Delays and missteps have put the U.S. behind other nations conducting thousands of tests.

The head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Dr. Stephen Hahn, responded that the FDA has been working with a private company to get as many as 2,500 test kits out to labs by the end of the week. Each kit should allow a lab to run about 500 tests, he said. That would work out to 1.25 million tests.

But when senators on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee pressed on whether the government will meet its self-imposed deadline, health officials avoided making hard promises.

“I am optimistic but I want to remain humble,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Independent experts said they can't assess whether the Trump administration will meet its goal, but they commended health agencies for the effort.

“The U.S. public and private sectors have the capacity to produce and distribute a large volume of tests, and I hope they meet the goal,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, the former CDC chief and current president of Resolve to Save Lives, a nonprofit that works to prevent epidemics.