Coronavirus live updates: U.S. death toll rises to 19; testing totals unclear; Italy’s numbers spike

Top U.S. officials could not say Saturday afternoon how many Americans had been tested for coronavirus.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn only had figures from the Centers for Disease Control and public health labs. Speaking at a news conference in the White House briefing room, they said the CDC so far has tested 1,583 patients, and that the CDC and public health labs combined have performed 5,861 tests.

“This is a dynamic and constantly evolving situation, not just day by day, but hour by hour,” Hahn said.

Azar defended the administration’s testing procedures — which have been widely criticized after the initial CDC coronavirus test kits were faulty — saying “the only issue was just that manufacturing scale up for capacity.”

“And sure, do we wish that we hadn’t had that manufacturing scale up quality control issue? Of course,” Azar continued. “But we’re not going to put a test out that’s not valid, replicable, validated, et cetera.”

Seventy-two state and local public health labs in 48 states as well as Washington, D.C., are using the coronavirus tests, officials say. The CDC reports it has shipped sufficient tests for 75,000 individuals.

Pressed by reporters, authorities tried to square Trump’s statement while touring the CDC in Atlanta Friday that “anybody who wants a test gets a test” with a contradictory one made by Vice President Pence the day prior: “We don’t have enough tests today to meet what we anticipate will be the demand going forward,” Pence said Thursday, during a stop in Minnesota.

Asked if Trump’s statement was accurate, Hahn demurred: “What I would say is we are scaling up to meet the demand,” he said.

He explained that individual seeking a test should do so in consultation with their personal health provider, as well as state health officials. Pushed again about the seeming differences between Trump and Pence’s statements, Azar said, “It’s just different ways of phrasing it.”

“We as regulators, or as those shipping the test, are not restricting who can get tested,” Azar continued. “We are leaving that to the professional judgment of doctors and public health laboratory officials, public health officials.”

“You may not get a test, unless a doctor or a public health official prescribes a test,” he said.

Azar advised the elderly and others most vulnerable to covid-19 to stay away from large gatherings.

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