Washington — As the White House comes under criticism for testing capacity amid pressure for states to restart their economies, Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said the federal government is approaching coronavirus testing on a "community by community" basis.
"What we're trying to do is look at this in a very data-driven, granular scientific methodologies to predict community by community the testing that is needed," Birx said Sunday on "Face the Nation." "At the same time, working with every laboratory director across the country that have these multiple platforms to really understand and find solutions for them on their issues related to supplies."
The Trump administration last week rolled out guidance for governors in determining when and how they should reopen their economies, which details three phases of criteria for areas to begin to return to normal. But before sending Americans back to work, public health experts have called for a significant increase in testing capacity.
Vice President Mike Pence said in an interview on "Fox News Sunday" that the U.S. is currently conducting 150,000 tests daily, though he said he believes that can double with the assistance of governors. Researchers at Harvard University, meanwhile, predict the number of daily tests needs to be between 500,000 and 700,000 in order for the country to reopen by mid-May, according to The New York Times.
Birx said the federal government is watching each metropolitan area of the country in a "granular way" as the U.S. experiences what she described as a "series of small epidemics" across the nation.
Each community, she said, "will have a different testing need."
"Testing needs to be focused critically where you start to see early evidence, because no test is 100% specific and 100% sensitive," Birx said. "If you test and over test in areas where there isn't virus, you can end up with false positives and false negatives."
While governors in nearly all 50 states have issued mandatory stay-at-home orders for residents, some state leaders have begun loosening restrictions. In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis allowed some beaches to open, and in South Carolina, Governor Henry McMaster issued an order allowing public boat landings and ramps to reopen.
Still, more than a dozen states have extended their stay-at-home orders into May, even as federal social distancing guidelines currently extend only to the end of April.
Birx said it's crucial for the American people to see cases and testing "in a much more granular way," including by county or zip code, and said that information will help shape any easing of restrictions.
"It needs to be down to the communities, so the communities can see what happens in their communities and make decisions with the local and health officials and the state officials, what can be opened and what needs to remain closed," she said.
In the U.S., there have been more than 735,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, and the death toll is nearing 40,000.