SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Mitt Romney is among members of Congress expressing frustration over the nation’s lag in coronavirus testing.
“It’s very frustrating that we have been so slow in getting the testing. There’s no question about that,” Romney told reporters.
“You can’t get wipes for your countertop. You can’t get alcohol. You can’t get masks in our country. And it’s very difficult to get tests.”
The Utah Republican’s comments came after closed-door briefings from U.S. health officials about the ongoing pandemic, according to Politico.
Senators warned that the U.S. health care system could soon become overwhelmed, noting that countries such as Italy and South Korea are dealing with an influx of patients and limited medical supplies, Politico reported.
About 1,200 people in the U.S. have tested positive for the virus, a number that is expected to rise in the coming days and weeks.
Five Utahns have tested positive, including Utah Jazz stars Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell. A nonresident on vacation in Utah also had a positive test result, said Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox said at news conference Thursday.
As of midday Thursday, the state public health laboratory had tested 136 Utahns, according to Cox. Samples from another 24 patients are currently being tested, he said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tested another 18 Utah residents before the public health lab was certified to test in state. Private labs have also started testing, including ARUP at the University of Utah, which tested 100 people Wednesday alone, Cox said.
Intermountain Healthcare also is close to obtaining certification to do testing.
“We are on a good trajectory that will allow us to test far more, will allow us to test more surveillance testing throughout the community to try to detect if there is community spread and to what extent that community spread is happening,” Cox said, adding there are no cases of community spread right now.
When fully ramped up, the state will be able to test up to 1,000 people a day, he said.
“Unfortunately, we do not have enough tests right now for everyone in the state to get tested or everyone who has cold symptoms to get tested.”
But, Cox said, people who have serious symptoms will “absolutely” get tested.
Politico reported that lawmakers emerging from the briefings said the U.S. is struggling to keep up with other countries’ capacity to test people for the virus due to issues with the supply chain. According to several attendees, the health officials said the slow pace is due to low availability of cotton swabs, gloves and other protective gear that is necessary for technicians carrying out the tests.
Less than 10,000 Americans have been tested, according to federal lawmakers, while other countries have been able to complete more than that number of tests each day.
“Frankly, having testing would have given us a much better view as to how many people have the virus and what kind of social distancing actions we should be taking to prevent the spread of the virus,” Romney said.
Romney also expressed frustration about political posturing associated with the coronavirus. He suggested not going to the extreme right or left for information but looking to down-the-middle news outlets.
“Put the politics aside. Put the rhetoric aside, except for entertainment and go to reliable sources to get information that is really helpful,” he said.
The senator earlier this month said the Trump administration was ill-prepared to deal with a pandemic in terms of protective equipment such as gowns and masks and medical devices that would help people once they are infected.
Romney has also signed on to bipartisan legislation to provide disaster unemployment assistance to people who are unable to work due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency would be available to people, including self-employed individuals and independent contractors, who are sick, quarantined, furloughed or whose family circumstances keep them from working or reduce their pay.
The bill would ease the financial uncertainty that families in Utah and across the country may face.
“Our country is facing a serious health crisis, and Utahns shouldn’t have to choose between a paycheck and protecting their own health,” Romney said.
Contributing: Boyd Matheson