"It certainly is not too late": Fauci says wider coronavirus testing system will be up and running soon

Top expert on infectious diseases discusses coronavirus testing

Last Updated Mar 12, 2020 8:39 PM EDT

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who is on the coronavirus task force, said at a House meeting on Thursday that the current testing system "is not really geared to what we need right now." 

Hours after calling the testing system a "failing," Fauci spoke to "CBS Evening News" anchor Norah O'Donnell in an exclusive interview. 

NORAH O'DONNELL: We want to bring in Dr. Anthony Fauci. He is the country's top expert on infectious diseases and has served as scientific adviser for every President since Ronald Reagan. Dr. Fauci, good to see you. Thank you for joining us.
 
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI: Good to be with you. 
 
O'DONNELL: I want to ask you about what you said today before Congress, that our system is failing. How so?

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"CBS Evening News" anchor Norah O'Donnell interviews Dr. Anthony Fauci. CBS News

FAUCI: What I was referring to at the hearing was that the system of testing was originally designed for a doctor-patient type of interaction where you go into the doctor's office or a clinic with symptoms and the reason you want to test is either you have been exposed or have symptoms. That goes to a public health laboratory that the CDC made the test for. It works very well for that. But what it doesn't work for is if you want to do broad, blanket-type of screenings that answer the question that so many people are asking: How many people in this country are infected?

 FAUCI: That system now is going to be up and running — I would imagine really quite soon. Probably in a week.
 
O'DONNELL: Will that be too late?
 
FAUCI: I don't think there is things like too late. But what we can do right now is kind of what we call both containment and mitigation. Those are the things you do to stop spread. So therefore I don't like to say it's too late. It certainly is not too late.
 
O'DONNELL: We had a viewer write in that her sister has a low-grade fever, she has a cough, but the doctor won't test her for coronavirus because she doesn't meet the "government standards." What are the standards and why can't she get a test?
 
FAUCI: Well, I must tell you Norah, for sure that that is a misunderstanding of what the standards are. The standards used to be more stringent. They are much more relaxed right now. 
 
O'DONNELL: Are you sure that that message is getting to doctors?

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"CBS Evening News" anchor Norah O'Donnell interviews Dr. Anthony Fauci.  CBS News

FAUCI: Well, obviously, it may not be because you're just giving me an example of how that message didn't get out. I think we need to do a better job of getting that message out. Hopefully my talking to you today will be, you know, going a step in that direction to get that message out.

 
O'DONNELL: We know the symptoms of COVID-19 are dry cough, fever and shortness of breath. If someone has those symptoms, should they go to the emergency room?
 
FAUCI: No, thank you for the question. They should stay home, call the health care provider, call their physician or even call the emergency room and say, these are the symptoms that I've had, I'm staying home. What can I do to get a test, and then you will get instructed about what the proper safe way is to do that.
 
O'DONNELL: Dr. Fauci, America has changed so rapidly in the last week, people have a basic question: When is life going to get back to normal? How long is this going to last?
 
FAUCI: You know Norah, we don't know how long it lasts. If you look at what's happened in China, they went way up, and they're starting to come right down now. The Korea curve is peaking — it's starting to kind of flatten out. So you usually measure in a matter of several weeks to a couple of months. 
 
O'DONNELL: Well Dr. Fauci, good luck with all of your efforts and thank you so much for your information.
 
FAUCI: Good to be with you Norah.