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Senate Democrats Demand Comprehensive Coronavirus Testing Plan Before Opening up Economy

NEW YORK – As the Trump Administration ponders how to allow nonessential workers to return to the workplace amid the COVID-19 pandemic, US Senate Democrats called for greater testing for the coronavirus before steps can be made to reopen the economy. 

In a policy white paper published Wednesday, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Washington), the ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, and several of her Democratic colleagues laid out a "roadmap" for getting people back to work by ramping up the capacity for testing for SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

The white paper said that according to some experts at least 500,000 coronavirus tests will need to be administered daily in order to allow people to return to work and get the economy rolling again. According to the COVID Tracking Project, as of Thursday afternoon, almost 3.3 million Americans had been tested for SARS-CoV-2

"Public health experts have made clear we will need to do hundreds of millions of tests if we want to reduce social distancing and safely get people back to work, back to school, and back to some semblance of normal life. For that to happen, we need testing to be fast, free, and everywhere," Murray said in a statement.

Testing capacity in the US has been an issue since the pandemic started. Even after the first test from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention became available for diagnosing COVID-19, some states reported inconclusive results during the quality control process, compromising the effort to get people tested. 

The administration, and Trump specifically, has been criticized for not taking the disease seriously enough early on, and Murray faulted the Trump administration for repeatedly failing to recognize "the need for extensive testing to fight COVID-19."

As of Thursday afternoon, there were more than 629,000 confirmed cases of the disease in the US with nearly 27,000 deaths resulting from the coronavirus.

"With accurate, expansive, early testing, the US could have better contained early case clusters and significantly mitigated the widespread community transmission that has overwhelmed the healthcare system and resulted in tens of thousands of deaths," Murray said.

The Senate Democrats "demand a clear, detailed plan to rapidly scale and optimize COVID-19 testing in the United States," according to the white paper. They proposed six necessary steps before reopening the economy, including a strategic plan to leverage a "whole of society" response; emergency funding for rapid scaling up of testing and support of testing-related activities; and a pipeline to develop, validate, and allocate accurate and reliable tests.

Additionally, they called for creating a structure to ensure that testing is ubiquitous, accurate, reliable, fast and freeand ensuring that policies for scaling up and optimizing COVID-19 testing are transparent and accountable.

In addition to widespread testing, "Congress should establish a core public health infrastructure fund that reaches $4.5 billion annually to strengthen the local public health system in the United States, bolstering the nation's ability to strengthen testing, contact tracing, and targeted isolation related to the COVID-19 pandemic," according to the paper.

The Democratic proposal calls for the federal government to partner with commercial and community entities, including pharmacies and national retailers, to conduct testing nationwide, and extend or expand the Federal Emergency Management/Department of Health and Human Services initiative that established community testing sites.