06.04.20

Murray Urges Trump Administration Not to Eliminate Position Tasked With Leading COVID-19 Testing Efforts

Murray urges Trump Administration to reverse course after it announced testing lead would step down with no replacement planned

 

Trump Administration plans to eliminate position even as the U.S. remains far off from what experts say is needed to safely reopen

 

Move is latest example of Trump Administration failing to lead on testing, including submitting an inadequate national testing plan, incomplete demographic data report

 

Murray: “I strongly urge you to reconsider walking away from this responsibility and putting the lives and livelihoods of people across the country at risk.”

 

(Washington, D.C.) –  Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, wrote to Vice President Mike Pence criticizing the Trump Administration’s plan to eliminate the role leading COVID-19 testing efforts nationally. Earlier this week the Trump Administration announced Admiral Brett Giroir, Assistant Secretary for Health, would be stepping down from his role as COVID-19 testing lead and that no replacement was planned. Senator Murray urged the Administration to reverse course and made clear far more federal leadership is needed to ensure adequate testing.

 

“As the country faces more than 100,000 deaths from COVID-19 – and the number continues to rise – Admiral Brett Giroir will reportedly no longer oversee COVID-19 testing and will not be replaced by a new testing lead.   Many challenges remain to ramp up testing in the U.S., including production of tests and test supplies, and significant parts of the country still lack access to consistent, reliable testing.  Eliminating this role and deprioritizing this essential part of the COVID-19 response when our testing capacity is far off from what is needed to keep communities safe is wrong.  I strongly urge you to reconsider walking away from this responsibility and putting the lives and livelihoods of people across the country at risk,” Senator Murray wrote.

In her letter, Senator Murray also discussed the Trump Administration’s poor record on testing so far—including its struggle to provide the supplies it promised to states and failure to provide the detailed national plan Congress had required of it—and noted that it would be eliminating the role tasked with leading our national testing efforts before reaching the level of testing needed to keep communities safe.  Public health experts have made clear the United States needs to conduct many more tests than its current rate of 400,000 per day before it can safely reopen—with projections ranging from 900,000 to millions of tests per day.


Read the full letter below and HERE.

 

 

June 04, 2020

 

The Honorable Mike Pence

Vice President of the United States

The White House

Office of the Vice President

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.

Washington, DC 20500

 

 

Dear Vice President Pence:

 

As the country faces more than 100,000 deaths from COVID-19 – and the number continues to rise – Admiral Brett Giroir will reportedly no longer oversee COVID-19 testing and will not be replaced by a new testing lead.[1]  Many challenges remain to ramp up testing in the U.S., including production of tests and test supplies, and significant parts of the country still lack access to consistent, reliable testing.  Eliminating this role and deprioritizing this essential part of the COVID-19 response when our testing capacity is far off from what is needed to keep communities safe is wrong.  I strongly urge you to reconsider walking away from this responsibility and putting the lives and livelihoods of people across the country at risk. 

 

Since the first diagnosis of COVID-19 in January in my home state of Washington, I have raised concerns about efforts to develop and deploy COVID-19 diagnostic tests.  Through February, we saw weeks of delay as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) failed to develop a functional test.[2]  In March, Administration officials promised testing capacity was expanding, but no one was able to say how many tests were being manufactured and where they were being deployed.[3]  On March 12, I called on you to appoint a qualified public health expert to lead testing efforts for the federal government.[4]  The following day, Secretary Azar announced Admiral Giroir would coordinate COVID-19 diagnostic testing efforts.[5]

 

Over the past several months, testing capacity has expanded, from just over 5,000 tests being administered per day nationwide on March 12 to over 400,000 tests per day currently—but we are still falling far short of what is needed.  Public health experts warn that, to safely reopen workplaces and schools, test patients and staff in nursing homes and other congregate care settings, and screen hospital patients, we need many more tests—with projections ranging from 900,000 to millions of tests per day.[6]  We continue to face supply shortages, meaning states must compete with each other to procure the same materials required to administer a still limited number of tests.[7]  Furthermore, deliveries of badly needed testing supplies by the federal government to states have been plagued with delays, with supplies often arriving mislabeled and in disarray, among other issues.  It is also clear the pandemic has disproportionally affected communities of color, perpetuating and exacerbating existing racial and ethnic health disparities.[8]  Yet, there remain significant gaps in data, including around testing, that limit the ability to target public health response efforts where we need them most.

 

Instead of leading on these issues, the Trump Administration has repeatedly failed to recognize the critical role the federal government must play in developing and implementing a cohesive testing strategy.  After Congress required the Administration to develop a national testing strategy, the plan released by the Trump Administration placed the burden of testing on the states and continued to ignore significant testing needs faced by many communities.[9]  Similarly, after Congress required the Trump Administration to produce a report on COVID-19 demographic data, the Administration produced a woefully inadequate, four-page report that provided no new insight into the health disparities worsened by the COVID-19 response.[10]

 

Admiral Giroir’s announcement that he will step down as testing lead in mid-June is yet another sign of failed leadership by the Trump Administration.  The Department of Health and Human Services has confirmed Admiral Giroir will be returning to his role as Assistant Secretary for Health, and there are no plans to designate a new testing lead for the Administration.[11]  These changes come as President Trump contemplated winding down the White House Task Force, and, although he reversed course, Task Force officials have largely ceased appearing in public.[12]

 

The nation needs the Trump Administration to take responsibility and lead, as the COVID-19 death toll rises and the testing capacity is nowhere near what public health experts anticipate is needed.  It is unacceptable to eliminate the role of testing lead given the testing challenges facing the nation, and I strongly urge you to reconsider.

 

Sincerely,

 

###