Warning of Silent Spreaders, Covid-19 Task Force Calls for More Testing

Dr. Anthony Fauci, right, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during a Friday briefing with members of the Coronavirus Task Force, including Vice President Mike Pence, left, at the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON (CN) — Unwitting carriers of Covid-19 are spreading the disease and need to be tested as lockdown measures ease up, the White House Coronavirus Task Force said Friday, holding its first briefing since April.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said asymptomatic individuals are increasing community spread, undermining the classic strategy of identification, isolation and contact tracing.

“We are facing a serious problem in certain areas,” Fauci said, speaking from the Department of Health and Human Services headquarters in Washington.

A day earlier, the United States clocked its latest record-high infection numbers for the second day in a row with 39,327 new cases. Meantime, Thursday afternoon, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield announced that the actual number of cases may be 10 times higher than what has been confirmed through testing. 

While the U.S. is testing about 500,000 people a day, experts have urged testing 900,000 or more to control the spread of the virus. 

Listing off states with the highest infection rates in the country, Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, noted that Texas and Arizona are in the lead, followed by Florida, Mississippi, South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Nevada and Utah.

Florida’s new cases of coronavirus skyrocketed to nearly 9,000 on Friday, and Vice President Mike Pence echoed Birx’s call for Americans to get tested.

“What we’re observing today — and I’ve heard this from Florida, I’ve heard this from Texas and some other states along the Sunbelt — is that we’re seeing more and more young people, under the age of 35, who are testing positive,” Pence said. “In many cases they have no symptoms.”

While repeatedly emphasizing that 34 states are largely stable in their positive test numbers, the vice president urged young adults in states where cases are on the rise to consider the health threat Covid-19 poses to family members.

Recent research shows that upward of 45% of Americans may be carrying the disease with no sign of symptoms and transmitting the virus for longer than two weeks. 

Pence denied that hasty state reopenings are to blame for the uptick in U.S. cases.

“As the president has made clear, we want to open our economy up, and we want to move America forward,” he said.

The New York Times quoted Fauci on Thursday as saying health officials are in “intense discussions” about shifting to “pool testing,” in the hope that it would increase testing capacity and maximize resources. 

The method involves combined testing of samples from around 20 people, then individual testing if the pool test comes back positive.

Asked if the president’s recent campaign rallies in Texas and Oklahoma flew in the face of the White House recommendations to stop the spread of the disease, Pence repeatedly turned to the right to free speech and peaceful assembly. 

“We are creating settings where people can choose to participate in the political process, and we’ll continue to do that,” the vice president said. 

Pence also reinforced President Donald Trump’s repeated claim that Covid-19 cases are rising because testing is now more widely available.

“To one extent or another, the volume of new cases coming in is a reflection of a great success in expanding testing across the country,” Pence said Friday.

Experts emphasize that increased testing is only a partial explanation since Covid-related hospitalizations are up in tandem with the infection rate, to the point that many facilities are running out of beds.

On Tuesday, Fauci testified to Congress that the president never told the task force to scale down testing.

As Pence dodged criticism over the administration and GOP governors not following Covid-19 guidelines, Fauci emphasized the role of individual actions while the pandemic wages on.

“If we don’t extinguish the outbreak, sooner or later, even ones that are doing well are going to be vulnerable to the spread,” he said. “So we need to take that into account because we are all in it together and the only way we’re going to end it is by ending it together.”

Fauci exited the briefing without responding to questions from reporters on his opinions of the massive rallies Trump has held in recent weeks.

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