The facts on coronavirus testing

In the wake of an increasing number of new coronavirus infections in the U.S., federal officials have provided confusing and sometimes contradictory statements about the number and availability of tests to diagnose the new respiratory illness. 

Abstract vector coronavirus illustration, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, explains how testing for COVID-19 works, what happened with the CDC’s coronavirus test and what’s known about how many tests are available in the U.S.

President Donald Trump claimed on March 6 that anyone who “wants a test can get a test,” while Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar said in a television interview the same day that there “is no testing kit shortage, nor has there ever been.”

Contrary to both men, the public was told by the Association of Public Health Laboratories on March 9 that although things had improved since a week ago, “demand for testing is greater than the tests available.”

At the same time, at least one Democrat has exaggerated the problems.

Former Vice President Joe Biden said on March 1 that the Trump administration didn’t “even have a test kit” for the new coronavirus. That’s not true. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is widely viewed to have bungled the rollout of its viral test kits, there was a test kit at the time, and it had been successfully used by the agency and some states.

The novel coronavirus, now known as SARS-CoV-2, is responsible for the pneumonia-like illness called COVID-19, which first appeared in an outbreak in Wuhan, China, at the end of 2019.