WASHINGTON, DC – Although the Trump Administration has yet to submit a detailed national novel coronavirus (COVID-19) testing plan, and the U.S. continues to lag other nations in per-capita diagnostic COVID-19 testing, the White House this week is releasing $11 billion to states nationwide to help with testing.
U.S. Senator Jack Reed, who helped include the additional testing funds in the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act, also known as COVID 3.5, (Public Law No. 116-139), says Rhode Island’s share is $86,721,899.
“This injection of federal funding will boost the state’s testing efforts. Testing is absolutely critical to saving lives and safely reopening communities. I will continue working hard to ensure the state has the resources and capabilities it needs to test, treat, and respond to COVID-19,” said Senator Reed, a senior member of the Appropriations Committee. “Rhode Island has led the nation in per-capita testing and these federal funds will help accelerate testing and further expand the state’s capacity to test more people.
Reed noted that when President Trump announced the release of this money in the Rose Garden, he failed to note that neither he nor Senate Republicans initially supported the inclusion of these funds in the COVID 3.5 law. Thankfully for all fifty states and the health of the American people, Senate Democrats stuck to their principles and added $100 billion in lifesaving funding: with $25 billion for testing and $75 billion for hospitals included in the law.
“President Trump has gone from opposing the inclusion of these testing funds to claiming “testing isn’t necessary” to declaring the U.S. has “prevailed” on testing. But the reality is our testing capacity is not where it should be. Instead of making misleading claims and trying to spin data, the President should level with the American people and start working with Congress to effectively curb COVID-19,” said Reed. “Every state, even Rhode Island which is a national leader on testing, has a long way to go to scale up testing capacity so we can safely and fully reopen. This injection of federal funds will help. But we still need a comprehensive national testing and tracing strategy.”
Under the COVID 3.5 law, $11 billion in federal testing funds are directed to states and $14 billion goes to federal agencies including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to support research, development and deployment of tests, as well as a $1 billion set aside to cover the cost of COVID-19 testing for uninsured patients and another $750 million allocated through the Indian Health Service.
The $11 billion for states is allocated by formula that is based on factors that include population size and the relative number of COVID-19 cases in a given area.
Rhode Island leads the nation in per capita COVID-19 testing, with a screening rate of about 7 percent, well above public health guidelines that call for testing 2 percent of the population per month.
According to the COVID Tracking Project, which monitors state data on testing, hospitalizations, and death rates related to COVID-19, the U.S. has performed nearly 9.6 million tests so far. The U.S. currently conducts about 250,000 to 300,000 tests per day, which is roughly half of what Harvard Global Health Institute researchers recommend per day in order to safely relax coronavirus restrictions across the country and far fewer than the amount needed to allow America’s economy to get back on track and recover.
“The United States should be leading, not lagging in terms of per capita COVID-19 testing,” said Reed. “The public health and economic challenges we face are not insoluble. Our nation has the capital, capacity, expertise, and resources to overcome this. What is required now is stable, steady leadership and strategic coordination and investment.”
With many states beginning to relax safer-at-home social distancing protocols, Reed says a comprehensive national coronavirus testing plan and contact tracing initiative is essential to prevent a second wave of COVID-19 from flooding the health care system and further damaging the economy.
“We are not going to cope well with COVID-19 unless there is enhanced testing, tracking, and treatment. Testing and tracing have proven to be effective in other countries. But U.S. testing capacity needs to be increased,” said Senator Reed. “The best way forward is more testing, better contact tracing, and a responsible, transparent process that uses unbiased, unvarnished data and evidence to demonstrate it is safe to return to business, school, and public gatherings.”