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WASHINGTON — As Americans endure long lines and search stores for a COVID-19 test, Utah Sen. Mitt Romney blames the Biden administration for not ramping up availability when it had the chance.
"I think, unfortunately, the administration was wrong in not building testing capacity at a time when we all thought COVID was going away," Romney, a Republican, said in a Senate committee hearing Tuesday.
The senator recalled seeing two rapid test kits sitting on a drug store shelf for days last fall.
"No one was interested in buying a rapid test, and apparently the administration didn't think it should be aggressively building rapid tests. Omicron came along, caught people by surprise and we were obviously badly mistaken. The administration was, and we're suffering in part because of that," Romney said.
Given the uncertainty of the virus, the nation must ensure that it's prepared for new variants and future surges, he said.
As the COVID-19 omicron variant rampages across the country, President Joe Biden announced last month that the federal government would buy half a billion COVID-19 rapid test kits and distribute them free to people to use at home. Despite high public demand for tests, White House officials said last week it would still be several more weeks before the kits are available to be shipped.
On Wednesday, the Biden administration announced that it would distribute 5 million free, rapid tests to schools each month to help K-12 schools stay open. It is also making available lab capacity to support an additional 5 million PCR tests per month for schools.
In the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing, Romney also said it would be helpful for people to know when they should get tested for the coronavirus, noting the lack of available test kits.
"Because I think a lot of individuals, myself included, get tested when there's no indication that I need to get tested, other than to just want to make sure I'm not sick. There's huge demand for tests which are in short supply, in part because of that," he said.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Biden administration's chief medical adviser, said Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines make clear that exposure to someone with the virus for 15 minutes at a time or 15 minutes over a 24-hour period should get tested.
People should also get tested if they have symptoms of COVID-19, said Dr. Rachelle Walensky, CDC director. If people take a rapid at-home test that is negative but they still have symptoms, she said they should get a PCR test.
"So, many reasons to test, but really most importantly if you are exposed, if you have symptoms, and also if you're going into a setting where you might be seeing an immunocompromised person, somebody who is vulnerable, and not able to take a vaccine," Walensky said.
In the hearing, Romney said that he personally and believes the majority of people in the country respect Walensky and Fauci individually and professionally for the work they do.
"You are scientists, not politicians. Nevertheless, you are being made subject to the political whims of various political individuals and that comes at a high cost, which unfortunately, I fear, will lead some to not want to participate in helping our government make scientific choices," the senator said.
Romney said he appreciates their commitment to Americans and desire to do things as well as they possibly can.
"That doesn't mean they'll be done perfectly. That doesn't mean you won't make mistakes. That doesn't mean there won't be changes from time to time," he said. "Sometimes it's that data comes in that is different than you had anticipated, and sometimes it's because you were wrong. It's the nature of being a human being, that's where we are."