US military is not conducting civilian coronavirus tests despite offering to more than a week ago

The lack of civilian testing by Defense Department labs comes more than a week after Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said that he would make those labs available for such tests.

(CNN) -- Military labs have still not conducted a single coronavirus test on a civilian more than a week after Secretary of Defense Mark Esper offered up to help test civilians for the coronavirus, despite widespread complaints about a lack of adequate testing across the US.

"We are not maxing our capacity in our labs around the world," Joint Staff Surgeon Brig. Gen. Paul Friedrichs said at a Pentagon press conference Wednesday, adding that the Defense Department is currently operating 16 labs capable of conducting the test.

"We have not received an RFA, a request for assistance, from HHS that I'm aware of," he said, referring to the Department of Health and Human Services.

"But we do have capacity in some of our labs. We've identified that to HHS," he added.

HHS has not responded to a CNN request for comment.

The news comes as the US has lagged behind other advanced nations in per capita testing for the coronavirus, with the number of Covid-19 cases in the United States surpassing 64,000 and the number of deaths reaching at least 900 on Wednesday. People across the country -- including a sitting congressman -- have told CNN that they have been unable to get tests.

The lack of civilian testing by Defense Department labs comes more than a week after Esper said that he would make those labs available for such tests.

"The Department has made our 14 certified coronavirus testing labs available to test non DoD personnel as well and we will soon offer two additional labs for that purpose we hope this will provide excess capacity to the civilian population," Esper said last week.

The Defense Department has since added two labs capable of performing the tests.

To date those 16 labs have only performed tests of military service members, their dependents and Defense Department civilians and defense contractors.

"We've tested a little bit more than 1,000 across DOD laboratories and have the capability to do way more than that," US Army Lt. Gen. Ronald Place, the director of the Defense Health Agency, told reporters Thursday.

"We have the capability, if we had to -- and -- and right now, we haven't -- we have the capability to do tens of thousands per day," he added.

That situation contrasts with what medical experts say could await the public. Asked Friday whether the US can currently meet demand for tests, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said, "We are not there yet."

The testing timeline has been riddled with setbacks from early on in the virus' trajectory. In January, shortly after Chinese authorities identified a novel coronavirus as the cause of cases of pneumonia in Wuhan, China, the World Health Organization published a protocol with instructions for any country to manufacture tests for the virus.

Rather than using that protocol, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention developed its own test. A WHO spokesperson said this week that the organization didn't offer tests to the CDC because the US agency typically has the capacity to manufacture them itself.

On February 5, the CDC said it would begin shipping test kits to health labs throughout the country, but in subsequent days public labs found a defect. When public labs receive any test kit, they first verify that it works.

CNN's Kristen Holmes, Scott Bronstein, Curt Devine, Drew Griffin and Caroline Kelly contributed to this report.

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