HHS Secretary Alex Azar Sunday blamed the current delays in coronavirus testing on the states, which he said have been too slow to spend federal dollars to boost the country’s testing amid the virus’s spread.
The Trump administration has frequently sought to put the responsibility for the coronavirus response on governors and local officials, even as many public health officials as well as governors have called for a coordinated national emergency response.
“Our governors have to take that initiative and get their public health labs fully up and running,” Azar said on CBS News’ “Face the Nation.”
The background: More dollars for testing has emerged as a flashpoint in negotiations over the next coronavirus relief package between Republicans and the White House, amid new reports of delays in getting coronavirus test results.
Senate Republicans have reiterated calls for additional money for testing, while the White House had last week sought to zero out those dollars. The bill is now expected to include $16 billion in new dollars for testing.
Some governors have vocalized concerns with delays in procuring testing results, such as Colorado Democratic Gov. Jared Polis.
“The national testing scene is a complete disgrace,“ Polis said last weekend on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “So, every test we send out to private lab partners nationally, Quest, Labcorp, seven days, eight days, nine days — maybe six days if we’re lucky. Almost useless from an epidemiological or even diagnostic perspective.“
What happened: Azar didn’t comment on why the White House had initially opposed more testing money, but said that previous bills included $25 billion for testing — $11 billion of which went to states.
He also swatted down concerns that the federal government was sitting on testing dollars, pointing to $2 billion for the National Institutes of Health to develop cheap and readily available point-of-care diagnostics.
He also said that public health labs are running at 58 percent capacity, and claimed the federal government is meeting every need for supplies and testing.
He put the onus on the states to boost this, saying “we’re certainly talking to the governors and telling them that they’ve got to use this money to get up and running.”
In a tweet, former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb noted that “Public health labs are in the covid fight, and can be doing even more if they had adequate supplies to run their high capacity systems.” Those high capacity systems will be needed to expand capacity. Demand will rise as schools and businesses try to reopen.
What’s next: The Trump administration’s testing czar, Admiral Brett Giroir, teased an announcement coming later today on a “large investment” that would “improve the supply chain.” And Congress and the White House are negotiating the next relief package, which McConnell said Friday the Senate hopes to send to the House within two to three weeks — while Democrats say that more dollars are needed now.