Health and Human Services chief says ‘we don’t know’ how many Americans have been tested for coronavirus

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Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Tuesday the department does not know how many Americans have been tested for coronavirus.

The availability of test kits to health care providers has been one of the most scrutinized aspects of the federal government's response to the crisis, leading to frustrations from state and local officials, and there has been confusion among Trump administration officials over the number of testing kits that have been mailed out.

"We don't know exactly how many, because hundreds of thousands of our tests have gone out to private labs and hospitals that currently do not report in to (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)," Azar told CNN's John Berman on "New Day" when asked how many Americans have been tested for coronavirus at this point. "We're working with the CDC and those partners to get an I.T. reporting system up and running hopefully this week where we would be able to get that data to keep track of how many we're testing."

The HHS chief also said there are 2.1 million testing kits currently available and more than 1 million have been shipped.

Confusion and delays have persisted in testing Americans for coronavirus even after an outcry from state and local health authorities that the United States was behind in determining the extent of the outbreak.

Vice President Mike Pence, who is leading the administration's response to the outbreak -- which CNN now considers a pandemic -- acknowledged last week there was a shortfall in the number of testing kits required to meet demand. But, he said, the government would be able to provide testing for those who are believed to have been exposed or showing symptoms.

Meanwhile, fissures between the White House and national health agencies, including the CDC, have begun to expand as the coronavirus pandemic spreads to more American states, creating dissonance between President Donald Trump and the professionals tasked with containing the virus further.

The President and the two leading contenders for the 2020 Democratic nomination, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, have vowed to continue holding campaign rallies despite official guidance for those at risk to avoid large gatherings.

Asked if he would advise his elderly parents to go to a campaign rally, Azar said, "I would encourage any individual who is elderly or is medically fragile to think long and hard about going into any large gathering that would involve close quarter and potential spread. And if they do go, to take appropriate, personal hygiene protections. Don't shake hands."

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