Editorial: Trump, Congress need to fund COVID-19 testing and tracing

Posted July 22, 2020 5:00 a.m. EDT
Updated July 22, 2020 6:27 a.m. EDT

CBC Editorial: Wednesday, July 22, 2020; Editorial #8566
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company.

When states turn to President Donald Trump for leadership and coordination – particularly amid challenges in testing and tracing the spread of the COVID-19 virus – they are ignored, rejected and opposed.

The result has left states competing for scarce resources and unable to accomplish the primary objectives that the president's own White House Coronavirus Task Force says are critical to limiting the spread and bringing the pandemic under control. It is an unwise and untenable state of affairs.

Congress needs to pass legislation it now has before it, that will help states pay for increased testing and tracing while bypassing Trump’s dangerous obstinance.

Testing in North Carolina and other states has been challenged by limited supplies and slow processing. State Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen said she’s been concerned about “ballooning turnaround times” at labs -- from two- or three-days last month to an average of six or more days now.

Being able to do more testing, get results faster and do more tracing are critical to controlling the spread of COVID-19. “When more people get tested, and we all work alongside the COVID-19 community team to do our part with contact tracing, we can protect our loved ones and slow the spread of the virus,” Cohen said. Further, they help “break down barriers to access, particularly for our historically marginalized populations, who are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19,” said Dr. Cardra Burns of the state Division of Public Health. "They are part of a larger effort to make sure that testing is available in trusted and accessible places for communities of color."

This assessment doesn’t just come from our state’s health community. Trump’s special task force has identified North Carolina as one of 18 states in the “red zone” for COVID-19 cases that need more protective measures to slow the spread.

Among the actions the report recommended for North Carolina:

  • “Increasing testing, isolating cases, implementing contact tracing.”
  • “Promote social distancing and required wearing of cloth face coverings when outside the home.”
  • “Continue to keep bars closed and counties with 7-day average test positivity greater than 10%, restrict the number of restaurant patrons to 25% of occupancy or lower.”
  • “Continue to track cases, test percent positivity and hospitalizations to identify local pockets of increased transmission.”

While the president’s task force recommended GREATER testing and tracking, Trump and his political advisers are blocking billions of dollars to help states do more testing and contact tracing. Congress must fund and Trump needs to support expanded testing and tracing in the states.

The bill the U.S. House passed in May included $75 billion for testing efforts. Reports indicated that the package being developed by Republicans in the Senate included at least $25 billion for testing and contact tracing.

While many Senate Republicans working on the latest relief package are pressing to include funding for testing and tracing, Trump’s advisers have been reticent.

North Carolina’s voices in the Senate – Richard Burr and Thom Tillis – have been all too quiet at a critical time when action is needed. Voters need to know where their representatives stand.

Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, chair of the Health committee, has demonstrated party loyalty isn’t a barrier to demand what is needed. “All roads to opening school, going back to work, opening childcare lead through testing,” he said. He is right and it must be funded.

Burr and Tillis need to speak up. They need to demand and back a relief bill so the state can expand testing, tracing. This is critical. It needs to happen now. They must take real action to arrest the pandemic.

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