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White House puts new focus on coronavirus testing

A man directed vehicles as they arrived at a rapid COVID-19 testing site in Lowell.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House readied new guidelines Monday on coronavirus testing and reopening businesses as President Donald Trump sought to regain his footing after weeks of criticism and detours created in part by his sideshows.

As part of the guidelines effort, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was set to release new priorities for virus testing, including people who show no symptoms but are in high-risk settings.

The White House was unveiling what it described as a comprehensive overview of its efforts to make enough tests for COVID-19 available so states can sample at least 2.6% of their populations each month. Trump and administration medical experts outlined the plan on a call with governors Monday afternoon, before Trump announced that businesses such as CVS would expand access to tests across the country.


Monday’s developments were meant to fill critical gaps in White House plans to begin “reopening” the nation, ramping up testing for the virus while shifting the president’s focus toward recovery from the economic collapse caused by the outbreak.

On the conference call with governors, Trump suggested that many states should consider reopening schools before the end of the academic year, easing the way for parents to go back to work.

“Some of you might start thinking about school openings because a lot of people are wanting to have the school openings,’’ Trump told the governors. The Associated Press obtained an audio recording of the call.

Among Monday’s announcements was a new “testing blueprint” for states. It includes a focus on surveillance testing as well as “rapid response” programs to isolate those who test positive and identify those with whom they came in contact. The administration aims to have the market “flooded” with tests for the fall, when COVID-19 is expected to recur alongside the seasonal flu.


It comes as the White House argues that the limiting factor for the nation’s COVID-19 testing is no longer the test kits or the chemicals and supplies needed to conduct the tests but rather the availability of resulting samples — either because guidelines on who could be tested are too stringent or because there are not enough health workers able to take nasal swabs.

Many of the administration’s past pledges and goals on testing have not been met.

The CDC also has been working on more detailed guidelines on reopening schools, restaurants and other establishments that could be released as soon as Monday. Draft guidelines sent by the CDC to Washington include a long list of recommendations for organizations as they begin to reopen, such closing break rooms at offices, schools spacing desks six feet apart and restaurants using disposable plates and menus. The draft guidance was obtained by The Associated Press from a federal official who was not authorized to release it.

Some states have started to ease closure orders, and Trump is expected to spend coming days highlighting his administration’s efforts to help businesses and employees. Aides said the president would hold more frequent roundtables with CEOs, business owners and beneficiaries of the trillions of dollars in federal aid already approved by Congress, and begin to outline what he hopes to see in a future recovery package.

Trump last left the White House complex a month ago, and plans are being drawn up for a limited schedule of travel within the next few weeks, aides said. It would be a symbolic show that the nation is beginning to reopen.


The shift comes in conjunction with what the White House sees as encouraging signs across the country, with the pace of new infections stabilizing and deaths declining.

Still, medical experts warn that the virus will continue to haunt the country at least until a vaccine is developed. And they say the risk of a severe second wave is high if social distancing measures are relaxed too quickly or if testing and contact tracing schemes aren’t developed before people return to normal behaviors.

Worries are growing among Republicans and Trump allies over the president’s increasingly erratic handling of the coronavirus crisis.

For weeks, Republicans have grown concerned that Trump’s daily briefings were doing him grievous political damage. Though Trump cherished the TV ratings, the modest polling bump he received in the early days of the pandemic has vanished amid a flurry of misstatements and partisan fights.