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US likely at 200,000 daily coronavirus cases, assistant health secretary says

Adm. Brett Girorer says it demonstrates the need for faster testing results and for people to wear masks and social distance.

An assistant secretary of Health and Human Services says the U.S. is probably picking up 200,000 new COVID-19 cases per day, a much higher number than the 60,000-70,000 per day officially seen over the past week.

Adm. Brett Girorer, Assistant Secretary for Health at HHS, said it demonstrates the need for faster turnaround time for coronavirus testing. 

"It is really impossible to track and trace 67,000 new cases a day, which probably means we have 200,000 new cases a day that are actually there," Girorer told Fox News Thursday.

Girorer said he wants to see testing results -- which can take 48 hours or more -- come back in five minutes.

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He also urged people to heed suggestions of wearing a mask and social distancing to help mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.

The White House says it is working to distribute point-of-care tests — 15-minute tests — to all 15,400 nursing homes in the country.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service said Wednesday it will issue regulations requiring all nursing homes in states with an overall positive testing result of 5% or more to test staff weekly, as well as visitors. 

The U.S. is testing over 700,000 people per day, up from less than 100,000 in March. Trump administration officials point out that roughly half of U.S. tests are performed on rapid systems that give results in about 15 minutes or in hospitals, which typically process tests in about 24 hours. But last month, that still left some 9 million tests going through laboratories, which have been plagued by limited chemicals, machines and kits to develop COVID-19 tests.

Test results that come back after two or three days are nearly worthless, many health experts say, because by then the window for tracing the person’s contacts to prevent additional infections has essentially closed.

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U.S. officials have recently called for ramping up screening to include seemingly healthy Americans who may be unknowingly spreading the disease in their communities. But Quest Diagnostics, one of the nation’s largest testing chains, said it can’t keep up with demand and most patients will face waits of a week or longer for results.

Quest has urged health care providers to cut down on tests from low-priority individuals, such as those without symptoms or any contact with someone who has tested positive.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, warned Congress on June 30 that the U.S. could eventually see an official count of 100,000 cases per day.

A Johns Hopkins University tracker says the U.S. had at least 60,000 daily cases every day since July 14 including 71,000 on Wednesday. The U.S. has a total of more than 4 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than 144,000 deaths.

For most, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. But for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.