The US does not have an “adequate” number of Covid-19 tests with winter approaching, due to a lack of congressional funding, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator said Tuesday.
“No doubt about it that our response has been hampered by that lack of funding,” Dr. Ashish Jha said at a White House briefing.
“We had money allocated for a stockpile of tests and personal protective equipment – remember, having enough PPEs for doctors and nurses, pretty critical. We were going to have a national stockpile,” he said. “We do not have an adequate stockpile of that or of tests because we had to pull resources to make sure that we had enough vaccines.”
Jha added that, despite those resources, the Covid-19 vaccine campaign was still limited due to a lack of funding.
“So Congress bears a lot of responsibility for the complexities of the moment we find ourselves in. You can’t run any national response to a highly contagious and deadly virus without adequate funding from Congress,” he said.
Jha’s comments come at a critical moment in the US pandemic response. With winter rapidly approaching, immunity is waning in the United States, and Americans have been slow to get their Covid-19 booster shots.
Just 35% of those for whom a booster is recommended have had one, according to CDC data.
A new analysis suggests that if more people in the United States get their booster by the end of the year, about 90,000 Covid-19 deaths could be prevented this fall and winter. But if booster vaccinations continue at their current pace, the nation could see a peak of more than 1,000 Covid-19 deaths per day this winter, according to the study, published last week by The Commonwealth Fund.
There are now more than 400 daily Covid-19 deaths, on average, in the United States. The Biden administration has made clear it views testing as a vital flank of the US’ efforts to keep hospitalizations and deaths down this winter.
“We’re going to do everything inside the administration to make sure that we have testing capability that we can ramp up as quickly as possible. But all of this is made just dramatically harder by congressional inaction,” Jha said Tuesday. “You can’t fight a deadly virus without resources.”
In August, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention adjusted its Covid-19 guidance to urge the nation to focus less on measures such as quarantines and social distancing and instead focus on reducing severe disease from Covid-19.
But the agency says some people, including those who are older, who are immunocompromised, or who have certain disabilities or underlying health conditions, are at higher risk for serious illness, and may need to take more precautions.