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Democratic govenors seek federal COVID-19 testing coordination

Whitmer, Polis say states need information about federal supplies, materials needed for tests

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, shown in the Capitol when he was a House member, appeared with two other governors before a subcommittee Tuesday and said more transparency was needed about federal COVID-19 testing supplies.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, shown in the Capitol when he was a House member, appeared with two other governors before a subcommittee Tuesday and said more transparency was needed about federal COVID-19 testing supplies. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Governors told a House subcommittee Tuesday they need more predictability about how the federal government plans to help provide testing supplies as they reopen their states while trying to minimize another spike of COVID-19 infections.

The testimony of a Republican and two Democratic governors came as the nation’s attention shifted this week from the pandemic, which has killed more than 100,000 Americans, to protests that broke out in cities nationwide following the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minnesota.

Still, the threat of the virus remains as state officials decide how and when to lift additional restrictions and adjust to life with the virus that causes COVID-19. Some experts have raised concerns that the protests could add to the number of cases and could further exacerbate how the virus has greatly affected African Americans.

Democratic governors Jared Polis of Colorado and Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan both told the Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee that more transparency is needed on how the federal government is providing testing materials for states, such as reagents and swabs that have at times been in short supply.

“The most important things that we can do better with on the federal side is transparency and really knowing what we’re going to get when,” Polis said. If states don’t have that information, they can order their own materials and end up with too much of some items and net enough of others, he said.

“If we’re going to plan in coordination with our federal partners, we need to make sure we have all the cards on the table,” he said. “Everybody knows exactly what we’re going to get when and what we’re not going to get when. And then the states try to fill in the holes.”

Whitmer said Michigan has the capacity to conduct 25,000 COVID-19 tests per day, but the state hasn’t been able to achieve that because it hasn’t been able to count on the related supplies needed to conduct those tests.

“If supplies could be allocated more quickly and if we had a detailed breakdown of what was actually in the shipment, we could mobilize and ensure that we make the best use of these supplies and hit our capacity,” she said.

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, told the panel that every governor acknowledged the supply chain was “weak” at the outset of the pandemic, but said it has since gotten stronger.

“I have confidence in that supply chain that has been built up, both in the private sector and through CDC,” Hutchinson said, referring to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Democratic governors’ requests echo Democratic lawmakers who criticized the Trump administration for the testing strategy the Department of Health and Human Services released last month as not being comprehensive enough.

The three governors each took different approaches to stopping the spread of the virus in their states. Hutchinson defended his decision not to issue a statewide shutdown order, while Polis was one of the first governors to lift restrictions in Colorado and Whitmer lifted Michigan’s stay-at-home order later on Monday.

They agreed that continuing to test people in their states and do contact tracing to identify the contacts of infected people would be critical as states further lift restrictions and try to prevent a second wave. Contact tracing, specifically, presents its own set of challenges, they said.

Hutchinson said states would have to train people to handle the sensitive nature of calling people and asking who they’ve been in contact with and telling people they need to quarantine or self-isolate.

“I think as time goes on, you’re going to get more resistance to that,” he said. “That’s a huge hit on people’s lives and they’re going to have some pushback on that.”

Several lawmakers and governors also raised concerns about how a second wave of COVID-19 in the fall or winter could exacerbate the flu season later this year.

“It’s my belief that we have a very small window to learn from our past missteps that you all have outlined regarding supplies and testing and PPE and prepare for this second wave,” said Rep. Ann McLane Kuster, D-N.H., adding that the nation will need to ramp up the availability of a flu vaccine and prepare for greater demands on health care providers.

Polis said Colorado is taking steps to increase the state’s flu vaccination rates this year.

“The last thing we want is a resurgence in COVID patients coupled with a worse-than-average flu season that would only contribute to overwhelming our hospitals,” he said.

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