The following is a media release from Sen. Ed Markey and Sen Elizabeth Warren’s offices. Both were elected by voters in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to serve the state in Washington DC in the US Senate. Both are Democrats.
WASHINGTON DC – United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D- Mass.), Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) asked the Health and Human Services (HHS) Inspector General (IG) to conduct a full review of all funding streams, programs, and other congressional mandates related to coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) diagnostic testing to determine whether any programs have been “slowed down” at the request of President Donald Trump or HHS political employees.
On Saturday, President Trump described testing as a “double-edged sword” and said, “When you do testing to that extent, you’re gonna find more people, you’re gonna find more cases…I said to my people, slow the testing down, please.” These comments echoed statements that the President made in early March, when he indicated that he did not want to remove passengers from the infected Grand Princess cruise ship because “I don’t need to have the numbers double.” They also echo his comments from May, when he said testing was “overrated” because “When you test, you find something is wrong with people. If we didn’t do any testing, we would have very few cases.”
“This statement – in which the President implies that he cares more about superficially minimizing the threat of COVID-19 than about stopping a virus that has killed nearly 120,000 of our nation’s people, and that he has sought to undermine efforts to increase testing that are necessary to identify and slow viral outbreaks – is abhorrent,” wrote the senators in their letter. “It also suggests that political actors in the Administration may have listened to the President and taken steps to ‘slow’ federal initiatives designed to expand COVID-19 diagnostic testing.”
On June 1, 2020, the Trump Administration announced that Assistant Secretary of Health Brett Giroir would be “demobilized” from his role overseeing the nation’s coronavirus testing program and there would be no efforts to appoint a new head of operations. Assistant Secretary Giroir was scheduled to leave his role by mid-June, despite the numerous challenges remaining to ramp up testing across the country.
At the end of May, the Trump Administration released a congressionally-mandated “national testing strategy” that frustratingly shirked executive responsibility, instead placing the burden of testing onto each individual state.
Congress has worked in a bipartisan manner to expand COVID-19 testing across the country. For example, the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act included a $25 billion fund to expand COVID-19 testing, required states, localities, territories, and tribal nations to develop COVID-19 diagnostic testing plans, established a grant program to boost testing in rural health clinics, and invested in biomedical research to improve COVID-19 testing technology.
Acknowledging the deep-seated racial disparities in the spread and treatment of COVID-19 nationwide, Congress also required HHS to submit a report to Congress on the demographic characteristics of individuals receiving COVID-19 tests.
Over 2.2 million Americans have contracted COVID-19, and over 120,000 Americans have died. Cases are rising in at least 23 states, including Florida, Texas, Arizona, and Oklahoma.
Diagnostic testing is a critical tool to help public health officials and local leaders identify new COVID-19 cases and track the spread of the virus, but it appears that President Trump does not support federal efforts to expand access to COVID-19 tests and has undermined efforts to increase testing. The HHS IG must conduct a thorough review to ensure no program was unduly slowed based on requests from the President or other political employees in the Department.