A day after President Donald Trump slapped a 30 day travel ban on much of Europe, top federal health officials told Congress the decision represented a needed change in U.S. efforts, even as they acknowledged that the United States has not been able to provide Coronavirus tests to Americans who want to find out if they are infected with the virus.
Before the House Oversight Committee for a second day, lawmakers detailed stories of people - sometimes medical personnel - who were unable to get approval for a Coronavirus test.
"That is a failing," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. "It is a failing, let's admit it."
Fauci's frank admission again sent a much different message than one conveyed by President Trump, who said last Friday during a visit to the Centers for Disease Control that tests were readily available to all Americans.
"Anybody that needs a test gets a test," Mr. Trump said, in a declaration which has been undermined repeatedly in the past week.
.@RepDWStweets: "Basically you're saying... there's not one person that can ensure that these tests can be administered? Yes or no?"— CSPAN (@cspan) March 12, 2020
Dr. Anthony Fauci: "The system does is not really geared to what we need right now... that is a failing... It is a failing, let's admit it." pic.twitter.com/CynnLP93in
Boston Globe: Severe shortage of tests blunts coronavirus response, Boston doctors sayhttps://t.co/bE1OvMxNbZ— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) March 12, 2020
The issue leaked into the race for President, as former Vice President Joe Biden told reporters in Delaware that the lack of testing was a major shortcoming.
“The administration’s failure on testing is colossal,” said Biden, who described it as a “failure of leadership, planning and execution.”
While Fauci raised questions about testing, he stood strongly with the White House on the President's travel restrictions for much of mainland Europe, in a bid to stop people from bringing the Coronavirus into the U.S.
"It was pretty compelling that we needed to turn off the source from that region," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
"We found that 70 percent of new infections in the world were coming from Europe," Fauci said, specifically naming Italy, France and Germany as the largest clusters.
"Europe is the new China," said Centers for Disease Control Chief Dr. Robert Redfield, referring to the big jump in European virus numbers. "And that's why the President made those statements."
"This is not business as usual," Fauci added, as he told lawmakers that additional restrictions could be slapped on travel to and from other countries as well.
Full exchange:— Kyle Cheney (@kyledcheney) March 12, 2020
Q: Does banning travel from Europe help stop the spread of this illness?
FAUCI: Most of the new infections that we're getting right now, the majority of them are coming from Europe.
Q: So you think that'll make a difference?
FAUCI: "I really do. I really do."
Fauci and the CDC chief said the major outbreaks currently in the world for the Coronavirus are in Iran, South Korea, and mainland Europe.
While the two day hearing with health experts drew praise from members of both parties, there were some Republicans who were highly critical.
"Given the nature of this challenge and the President's announcements last night, with all due respect Madam Chair, I believe this hearing should have been canceled or postponed," said Rep. Clay Higgins (R-LA). "These gentlemen should be able to go and do their work."
"I agree with Congressman Higgins that you all need to be on the front lines," Rep. Ralph Norman (R-SC) told Fauci and others on the panel.
But lawmakers in both parties publicly disagreed with Higgins, making the case that public questions and answers with top health care experts had allowed Americans to hear direct testimony about the Coronavirus.
"I think it's important that we hear this because you've got 435 members of Congress who must go home and explain to our constituents what's going on," said Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX).
"You have truly performed an incredible public service," said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), the head of the Oversight panel.