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White House claims "dramatic ramp" up in coronavirus testing underway

Defense Department to donate equipment & test kits

The White House coronavirus task force said Tuesday that the nation's system of public and private laboratories are increasing their capacity to test patients amid the quickly spreading coronavirus outbreak. Brett Giroir, Assistant Secretary for Health, said at a press briefing in Washington that at least 60,000 tests have been conducted so far.

"The commercial system is rapidly advancing its testing capabilities," Giroir said. "As of today our public health laboratories, meaning the CDC and the public health labs, have reported out 31,878 tests so almost 32,000 tests. The clinical laboratories, the Association of Clinical Laboratories, have reported out about 27,000 tests."

Giroir said roughly 30%, or 8,200, of those from private labs were conducted yesterday. Giroir called it a "dramatic ramp as the high-throughput comes in."

He added that more tests have been conducted at regional hospitals, but figures from the American Hospital Association are not yet available.

Testing in the U.S. remains scarce, but the nation's capability received a boost Friday when the FDA authorized labs to test using a "high-volume" system made by Swiss healthcare company Roche. The system is widely used in labs for other types of tests, and can process up to 4,128 samples per day, according to a company press release, returning results in as little as three hours.

Testing has been more widely available in certain countries that made use of World Health Organization tests. The agency had shipped a quarter million to labs around the world by February 6, according to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom.

Deborah Birx, the White House's coronavirus response coordinator, defended the government's decision to forego tests developed outside the United States at Tuesday's briefing.

Birx said tests "used around the world were not of the same quality" as the ones that are more slowly coming to market in the United States.

The administration expects to soon set up 47 drive-through testing locations in "approximately 12 states," Giroir said. Drive-through locations are preferred for coronavirus testing because the disease spreads easily through contact and in crowded locations, such as hospital waiting rooms.

A website designed to screen people's possible coronavirus symptoms and direct them to testing sites went live Sunday night. Though officials at a White House press conference Friday indicated the site would be a national resource, the test version currently in operation serves just California's Santa Clara and San Mateo counties.

Within hours of the site's launch every available drive-through appointment had been filled. A spokesperson for Google told CBS News the service is expected to expand capacity soon.

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