Merkley, Wyden, Colleagues Hit Administration’s COVID Testing Failures, Insist Federal Government Must Release and Implement National Plan
Senate Democrats Say Trump Administration Must Ramp Up Testing Capabilities So That Every Person Who Needs A Test Can Get One
Washington, DC – Oregon’s U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, along with 40 Senate Democrats, today sent a letter to President Trump, calling on his administration to develop a comprehensive national strategic plan of action by May 24th to ensure states have enough testing capacity to begin safely re-opening.
The first case of COVID-19 in the United States was diagnosed in Washington State on January 20, 2020. After 12 weeks, and the confirmation of more than 1.1 million cases of COVID-19 and more than 67,000 deaths, the United States still lacks a national testing strategy to reliably and consistently test patients across the country. Instead, states have been forced to respond with limited federal support, leaving a patchwork of testing efforts across the country, limited data on the spread of the disease, and scarce supplies for testing and protection of health care workers. Last week, the Trump administration released its national coronavirus testing “blueprint,” but the document accomplishes nothing new and instead continues to place the burden on already hard-hit states.
“Our public health, government, and business leaders need information about who has COVID-19, who needs to be isolated or quarantined, and who may be immune due to previous infection. The only way to get that information is testing: widespread, fast, free testing — and the only way to accomplish testing on the scale needed is a nationally coordinated effort,” the senators wrote.
In the letter, the senators laid out their expectations for what details the administration needs to include in the national plan it is required to submit to Congress by May 24th under the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act. The senators write that while states and tribes are critical in executing nationwide testing, it is the administration’s responsibility to release and implement a detailed national plan as quickly as possible, as well as address other problems that demand a federal solution, such as managing the supply chain and analyzing national data.
In addition, they urged President Trump to use the full authority of the Executive Branch, including the Defense Production Act and the $25 billion allocated in the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act, to ensure sufficient production of testing kits and materials—such as testing swabs, reagent and personal protective equipment (PPE)—to meet demand. The senators also emphasized increasing lab testing capacity and building up a massive contact tracing workforce in order to identify future COVID-19 cases and contain the spread, in coordination with states.
Senators Merkley and Wyden were joined in sending the letter by Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA), and U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Richard J. Durbin (D-IL), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Tom Carper (D-DE), Ed Markey (D-MA), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Bob Casey, Jr. (D-PA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Tom Udall (D-NM), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Sheldon Whitehouse(D-RI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Gary C. Peters (D-MI), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Tina Smith (D-MN), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Mark Warner (D-VA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI),Tim Kaine (D-VA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Jack Reed (D-RI), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Chris Coons (D-DE), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Doug Jones (D-AL), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ).
A copy of the letter is available HERE and follows below.
Dear President Trump:
We write regarding the implementation of the testing provisions of the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act and the critical need for additional action to increase COVID-19 testing in the United States. We are deeply troubled by the lack of detail and strategy in your testing blueprint, and we fundamentally reject the notion that the federal government bears this little responsibility in increasing testing capacity.
Our public health, government, and business leaders need information about who has COVID-19, who needs to be isolated or quarantined, and who may be immune due to previous infection. The only way to get that information is testing: widespread, fast, free testing — and the only way to accomplish testing on the scale needed is a nationally coordinated effort.
While states and Tribes play a critical role in the COVID-19 response, there are certain responsibilities that can only be fulfilled by the federal government. The Trump Administration must not shirk its responsibilities and leave states and Tribes to fend for themselves. For example, only the Executive Branch can solve the underlying problems of coordination in the supply chain and synthesize epidemiological data at a national level to help states, Tribes, businesses, and health care providers prepare for and respond to the trajectory of the pandemic. A plan that fails to address these critical elements will fall short of laying the groundwork for the robust response the country requires to move forward in this crisis.
We urge you to quickly allocate the $25 billion provided in the law to ramp up testing in a manner that optimizes public health and promotes equity. Further, we expect prompt formulation, reporting, and implementation of a highly detailed and specific national strategic plan, as required in the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act. Your Administration must take a “whole of society” approach that will quickly scale and optimize COVID-19 testing, help build a massive workforce to trace and mitigate additional community spread, and help get America back to work.
We call on your Administration to ensure every state and Tribe has enough testing kits, supplies, equipment, and public health personnel to conduct widespread testing. While you claim that “we have plenty of testing,” numerous experts, including those in your own Administration, say that our testing capacity is inadequate and far from what is needed to contain the outbreak. Had you implemented an aggressive testing plan and listened to experts since the beginning of this outbreak, instead of denying responsibility, our country would not be in the position it is today.
The United States should not have to settle for anything less than best practices and the highest standard possible in our fight against this virus. We stand ready to do bipartisan work to increase testing capacity as high as necessary to fully address this threat, and as part of this work, your Administration needs to fundamentally revisit how much testing capacity it must build. To achieve this goal, there are at least three essential steps the Administration must take:
- Use the full authority of the Executive Branch, including the Defense Production Act and the money allocated in the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act, to ensure sufficient production of testing kits and materials, such as swabs, reagents, and personal protective equipment, to meet demand.
- In coordination with the states and Tribes, increase laboratory capacity to meet demand.
- In coordination with the states and Tribes, increase public health capacity and personnel, including building up a massive contact tracing workforce, to identify and isolate or quarantine COVID-19 cases and contain the disease’s spread.
The development of a comprehensive national strategic plan of action within 30 days – as required by the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act – is essential to meeting this goal. The plan should include detail, including concrete numbers for capacity targets, corresponding supply needs, and timelines for completion, on how your Administration plans to:
- Create a pipeline for the development and manufacturing of tests and testing supplies, including specific plans to:
- Establish a highly functioning supply chain with sufficient availability of all necessary testing materials and supplies;
- Explicitly assess the rate-limiting factors and bottlenecks in the supply chain and communicate this information publicly to state, local, tribal, and territorial leaders, academic and industry stakeholders, and health care providers; and
- Develop and validate accurate, reliable tests for COVID-19, with a focus on tests and processes that deliver rapid results.
- Work to efficiently and comprehensively administer tests across the United States, including specific plans to:
- Allocate tests and other necessary supplies in a manner that optimizes public health and equity;
- Ensure sufficient testing-related personnel;
- Ensure sufficient laboratory capacity and prioritize rapid turnaround times for test results;
- Enforce the Families First Coronavirus Response Act to ensure patients are tested with no cost sharing; and
- Implement an antibody testing program in the United States to identify people who are potentially immune to COVID-19.
- Prioritize the health and safety of the entire population in using testing to inform policy decisions, including specific plans to:
- Ensure equity in the response to COVID-19, including addressing inequities in outcomes based on race, ethnicity, sex, age, disability status, geographic location, and more;
a. Achieve sufficient testing capacity in every community, including those that often struggle to access health care: rural and frontier areas, communities with health professional shortages, medically underserved areas, underserved populations, and Native American communities, including both those in Indian Country, and those served by Urban Indian organizations; and
- Make testing available to vulnerable populations at increased risk of morbidity or mortality related to COVID-19, including people with disabilities.
- Use testing data to protect the public health. This will require unprecedented investment in and implementation of a robust public health workforce and infrastructure, which will perform contact tracing as well as leverage data produced by mass testing, including specific plans to:
- Strengthen electronic reporting of test results and patient outcomes;
- Expand epidemiological surveillance for COVID-19 to track cases and, if applicable, immunity;
- Conduct extensive high precision contact tracing, isolation, and quarantine, including specific plans to quickly recruit and train a significant new contract tracing workforce; and
- Leverage data about health disparities to ensure an equitable response.
While the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act took important steps on testing, these are merely first steps. Your Administration needs to do much more to stand up enough testing to effectively trace, control, and suppress the spread of the virus, and it is essential that you do so in a manner that is transparent and accountable. The health of our nation — physically, behaviorally, and economically — depends on it.
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