The head of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said coronavirus testing will be necessary beyond May and “into the fall,” as he acknowledged Sunday morning the U.S. is “very close to the peak” of active cases.
FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn responded to criticism over why the U.S. is still so “far behind” other countries in terms of COVID-19 testing and potential treatments, telling ABC News that antibody tests and all other determinations made by the agency depends purely on “the data and the science.” Hahn pushed back on the White House’s latest suggestion last week that May 1 may be a “good target” for re-opening the country from self-quarantine orders, saying “it’s too early to be able to tell that.” But just two weeks after President Donald Trump said he hoped to get Americans back to work by Easter Sunday, Hahn said the U.S. is at the crest of coronavirus case models.
“The models do show that we are very close to the peak. So I think that information is accurate,” Hahn told This Week’s Martha Raddatz Sunday, commending the work of White House Coronavirus Task Force members Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx. “This has been a really fast-moving outbreak, so we really have to take this day by day.”
The Trump administration has continued pushing the FDA to authorize antibody that which can detect who has developed immunity against the virus — an essential tool for allowing people to return to work in the coming weeks or months. Hahn said the agency has authorized one antibody test so far and are hoping to get more done relatively soon. But he again cautioned “we need tests that are accurate, reliable and reproducable.”
Hahn noted that several other countries including Germany and South Korea “obtained antibody tests that aren’t accurate,” which is something the FDA won’t let happen using the same “science and data-driven” methods the agency has always practiced.
The FDA head echoed Fauci and Birx’s remarks last week that the U.S. conducted more COVID-19 tests than any other country in the world, topping more than two million performed nationwide. “But we need to do more, no question about that,” Hanh said. “There will be further ramping up testing … [which] will really be necessary as we move beyond May and into the summer months and then into the fall.”
Hahn stressed that where people live along with their personal underlying health conditions will be prime indicators for when and how testing is conducted moving into the fall months. “In some areas it’s very easy to get a test” and others it is not,” he said, acknowledging a gap between rural and urban area testing.
Hahn did not address repeated suggestions from the president and members of his administration, including his assistant for Trade and Manufacturing Policy, Peter Navarro, that untested potential treatments like hydroxychloroquine be more widely used in battling coronavirus symptoms.