Gov't virus testing will prioritize medical staff, elderly

Adm. Brett Giroir, M.D., Assistant Secretary for Health, speaks during a briefing about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Sunday, March 15, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Adm. Brett Giroir, M.D., Assistant Secretary for Health, speaks during a briefing about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Sunday, March 15, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The federal government's effort to rapidly expand testing for the coronavirus will initially focus on screening health care workers and the elderly, Trump administration officials said Sunday.

Members of President Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force attempted to flesh out their plan to screen thousands of Americans for the virus amid growing frustration about lack of access to tests and confusion about who should get them.

Priority for testing would go to medical professionals and senior citizens with viral symptoms, officials said, in an effort to avoid “paralyzing” the U.S. health system.

"It’s important the tests are available for the people who are most in need and our health care workers and first responders that are helping and supporting them," Vice President Mike Pence told reporters at the White House.

The retooled plan came two days after President Donald Trump previewed a nationwide network of drive-thru testing sites at chains like WalMart and Target linked by a Google-designed website.

But Sunday's announcement focused mainly on traditional government efforts to deploy medical and emergency staff in U.S. communities.

Brett Giroir, a senior health administration official, said the Federal Emergency Management Agency and members of the U.S. public health service would coordinate with states to setup community testing centers. Each site would be capable to testing 2,000 to 4,000 people per day. He said the federal government would begin deploying Monday.

"You will see these sites rolling out progressively over the week,” Giroir said. “This is not make believe, this is not fantasy.” Trump tapped Giroir, assistant secretary of Health and Human Services, to become testing ‘czar’ earlier this week, amid growing complaints about the slow U.S. response.