Delgado Op-Ed: To Reopen America Safely, We Must Boost Testing Capacity
By Rep. Antonio Delgado
May 31, 2020
The United States reached a devastating milestone last week with 100,000 lives lost to the coronavirus. The magnitude of loss is difficult to fully comprehend. That is as many as the entire populations of Columbia County and Delaware County combined.
At the same time, our nation is undertaking a reopening process meant to help regain some sense of normalcy and push our economy through these incredibly challenging times. Critically, with the easing of lockdown restrictions comes the potential of a second wave of infections. To protect against this and give ourselves the ability to contain emerging hotspots, it is imperative our testing capacity meet the moment.
This is what informed my support for the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act, which passed the House and Senate on an overwhelmingly bipartisan basis and was signed by the president. It includes $25 billion for testing and also requires the administration to provide a strategic testing plan within 30 days. On May 17, the administration released its strategic testing plan. According to the document, the administration intends to "maintain" the mid-May testing levels of approximately 300,000 tests per day.
Since the release of the plan, numerous medical experts have made it clear that 300,000 tests per day is simply not enough. Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, recently walked through the math: U.S. hospitals need close to 100,000 tests daily to monitor the virus and minimize spread within their facilities. Nursing homes, which are particularly susceptible to the virus and home to vulnerable populations, require another 150,000 tests daily. Those two needs account for 250,000 of the proposed 300,000 tests, leaving us with almost no ability to test people showing symptoms in our communities. Instead, experts say we need closer to 900,000 tests per day.
How does the administration intend to fill the gap? According the plan, testing will grow as states are "empowered with enhanced knowledge and funding." In other words, the work is left to the states.
There are problems with this approach, starting with the practical difficulties of states acquiring testing kits. While states may logistically be better positioned to designate testing sites, acquiring kits requires knowledge and navigation of national and international supply chains, which has presented challenges for states. Then there's the cost. State budgets are already hemorrhaging due to the economic impact of COVID-19.
This is exactly why the House passed the HEROES Act, which includes not only significant relief to our state and local governments to address the loss of revenue attributable to coronavirus, but also provides $75 billion for testing. Importantly, the additional $75 billion on top of the previous $25 billion authorized by Congress is what many medical experts believe is necessary to reach the testing capacity needed at this time.
Here we are weeks later: States and local governments continue to wait for assistance while the Senate refuses even to vote on this bill and the White House sits silent.
Instead, the administration is putting most of its effort behind encouraging states to reopen. It appears they're willing to do so without the testing capacity we need. It is a very dangerous proposition to open America and put people at risk without taking the necessary steps to protect against the potential of a second large-scale wave — a wave that would not only take more lives but put our economy at a standstill again. We simply cannot afford the risk of leaving states unprepared. The stakes are just too high.
To those who think this is all too difficult to predict, so why not wait and see, I would ask them to reflect upon the fact that in four months we've already lost 100,000 of our fellow Americans to this vicious disease. Simply put, we need more than a wait-and-see approach or a plan that hopes that states can somehow just work it all out. This is a matter that requires our federal government to lead and provide meaningful guidance and support in order to achieve the testing capacity necessary to truly protect public health while reopening America.