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Increase In Availability Of Coronavirus Tests


We're going to begin today with the latest on the coronavirus pandemic and efforts to slow down the spread of the virus here in the United States. The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S. is now well above 20,000, with hotspots of infection on both coasts. Given that, we'll spend the rest of the program on some issues you might have on your mind, like how to manage finances and cooking and things like that.

But let's start with the latest White House briefing. Today, President Trump and his Coronavirus Task Force addressed the issue of testing capacity, as well as other steps the administration is taking. NPR science correspondent Joe Palca listened in, and he is with us now to tell us more.

Welcome. Thank you for joining us.

JOE PALCA, BYLINE: Glad to be here.

MARTIN: OK. First, to start with, what's the availability of test kits for the virus now?

PALCA: Well, clearly, the test kits are becoming more available. Assistant secretary of health, Admiral Brett Giroir, says there are 91 public health labs capable of performing the test, and all the major clinical industrial testing labs are offering tests as well. So there's been a dramatic increase in the number of people in this country who've gotten tested.


BRETT GIROIR: Over 195,000 people in America have completed their testing. That means tests plus results. This does not count the people whose tests are in process.

PALCA: But Giroir's also made it clear that tests should go to people who need them most - those seriously ill, health care workers who may have symptoms or people in long-term care facilities who may be ill.

MARTIN: We've been hearing reports that hospitals are running low on masks and gowns and other equipment needed to protect health care workers. Did anybody at the briefing address that?

PALCA: Yes there was definitely discussion about how the situation was - poor, but it was getting better. And the head of FEMA was saying that supplies were available, and they were matching need with supply. Although at one point, Vice President Pence said, if you have spare masks sitting in your storeroom, take them to the local hospitals. So, clearly, it's not all sorted out.

MARTIN: So earlier today, the president tweeted that he was very positive about a treatment for the virus that involved two drugs, one an antibiotic and the other a malaria medication. Did that come up?

PALCA: Yes. The head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Anthony Fauci, addressed that. He said there are some - there's some anecdotal evidence for that cocktail. But he said it wasn't proven. And he said there are basically two groups who give advice about drugs people should consider taking. One is people who want to give patients some hope that they can cling to if they have a dangerous disease.


ANTHONY FAUCI: And then you have the other group, which is my job as a scientist to say, my job is to ultimately prove without a doubt that a drug is not only safe but that it actually works.

PALCA: So Fauci was saying for right now, there's no proof that it works.

MARTIN: Briefly, if you can, did Dr. Fauci give any indication about how well he thinks the administration's efforts to combat all of this were actually working?

PALCA: Well, he thinks there is some measurable difference and improvement. But how much and how fast and how far - up in the air.

MARTIN: That is NPR's science correspondent Joe Palca.

Joe, thank you.

PALCA: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joe Palca is a science correspondent for NPR. Since joining NPR in 1992, Palca has covered a range of science topics — everything from biomedical research to astronomy. He is currently focused on the eponymous series, "Joe's Big Idea." Stories in the series explore the minds and motivations of scientists and inventors. Palca is also the founder of NPR Scicommers – A science communication collective.