WASHINGTON, DC – After President Trump recently claimed “testing isn’t necessary” to effectively combat novel coronavirus (COVID-19), the White House reversed course today and tried to take a Rose Garden victory lap under a banner claiming “America Leads The World In Testing.” However, according to Worldometer, the U.S. lags behind many nations when it comes to per capita testing, including: Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Ireland, and many other countries that have all tested a larger percentage of their population than the U.S.
U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) says the United States is nowhere near where it needs to be on testing and is urging the Trump Administration to help improve America’s COVID-19 testing and contact tracing capacity. Reed says the White House must level with the American people about the threat of COVID-19, present the evidence they need to make informed decisions, and work with the private sector to improve the development, manufacturing, and distribution of COVID-19 testing technology; build and deploy a coordinated contact tracing workforce; and ensure there is sufficient health care capacity, including personal protective equipment (PPE).
“Today’s press conference featured more banners than new ideas or detailed testing strategies. Today, President Trump tried to claim every American can get a test, but nine million tests is inadequate for 330 million Americans,” said Senator Reed. “There are fixable issues when it comes to COVID-19 testing and tracking strategies, and addressing them will require a national, unified response. Downplaying the threat of coronavirus without adequate testing is bad medicine and detrimental to public health and the health of our economy.”
Senator Reed helped overcome the President’s opposition to additional federal testing funds and included $25 billion to increase COVID-19 testing capacity and make an initial investment in contact tracing in the recently passed Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act, also known as COVID 3.5, (Public Law No. 116-139). However, the White House still hasn’t outlined a detailed national testing blueprint or delivered on its testing promises. And the Trump Administration still refuses to fully utilize the Defense Production Act to address logistical challenges with respect to manufacturing and test distribution. Senator Reed is also calling for an additional $8 billion to strengthen America’s contact tracing infrastructure and boost contact tracing workforce in all 50 states and U.S. territories. This funding would help states recruit, hire, and train contact tracers and deploy voluntary digital tools that can integrate data to quickly alert people who have crossed paths with a newly diagnosed COVID-19 patient.
“This virus doesn’t respect borders. It’s even struck the White House staff. The Administration can’t bury its head in the sand here. We need a unified, national testing and tracing strategy to contain the spread of COVID-19 and prevent a resurgence,” said Reed. “Rhode Island has put a lot of effort and resources into extensive testing, but if other states don’t do their part, then the potential for a major resurgence remains high.”
Geographically, Rhode Island is the nation’s smallest state, but it has led 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 million tests so far. The U.S. currently conducts about 250,000 tests per day, which is just 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. “No one enjoys this virus’ impact on our lives and the economy, but the best way forward is a responsible, transparent process that uses unbiased, unvarnished data and evidence to demonstrate it is safe to return to business, school, and public gatherings. This is a marathon, not a sprint, and the road to sustainable recovery requires enhanced testing and tracing.”