Politics

Biden tells governors ‘we have to do better’ on COVID tests


President Biden acknowledged the shortage of coronavirus tests during a virtual meeting with the nation’s governors on Monday, as the surge of the omicron variant has sent consumers racing to buy testing kits only to discover long lines and sold-out stores.

Mr. Biden said that when he took office, no over-the-counter at-home coronavirus tests were available and now almost 200 million tests have hit the market. Still, he admitted that’s insufficient to satisfy demand as omicron cases rapidly increase.

“It’s not enough,” Mr. Biden said. “It’s clearly not enough. If we had known, we would have gone harder quicker.”

“But we have to do more,” he said. “We have to do better.”

The Biden administration last week used the Defense Production Act to get 200 million to 500 million COVID-19 tests to market free of charge to Americans.

However, Mr. Biden has not signed a contract to buy the tests, and the website order will not be ready until January. The administration has been mum about how many tests people can order and when they will be shipped once they are ordered.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki last week dismissed concerns about the lack of a contract, saying it’s just a matter of time before it is finalized.

“We have no concern about the contract being finalized,” Ms. Psaki told reporters. “We’re just working to finalize the contracts. We just announced this two days ago. But there’s no — we don’t see any issue or any halt to getting that done and finalizing that.”

Testing manufacturers have been ramping up production, with some companies working around the clock to meet demand. It is unclear if they keep up with demand.

Mr. Biden said Monday that the government will continue to use the Defense Production Act — a relic from the Korean War that allows the government to prioritize contracts on items deemed necessary for national defense — to produce tests.

While Americans are waiting to order the tests, they’ve flocked to local pharmacies only to be met with long lines and empty shelves.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican who was on the call with the president, said lack of testing is the biggest challenge for state leaders.

“We, as governors, are getting pressure to do more, and the need is great to do more in terms of the rapid test and the availability of it,” Mr. Hutchinson told Mr. Biden.

Consumers are buying so many in-home testing kits that some stores have imposed limits on how many can be purchased. Walgreens, for example, has limited tests to four per person.

Monday’s call marked Mr. Biden’s first time joining the weekly call between his COVID response team and the governors. It comes roughly a week after Mr. Biden made increased testing part of his effort to get a handle on COVID surges across the country.

Thousands of flights were canceled over the weekend as airline workers tested positive, and the NBA and the NHL canceled games because of the surge of the omicron variant of the coronavirus.




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