Schumer Floor Remarks On Coronavirus Outbreak In New Rochelle And The Five Steps The Trump Admin Must Take Immediately To Improve Ability To Test For Coronavirus In The United States

March 11, 2020

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor regarding the Trump Administration’s failure to adequately make coronavirus test kits available across the United States, including in response to the outbreak in New Rochelle, NY.  Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks, which can also be viewed here:

The United States has more than one thousand confirmed cases of COVID-19, the coronavirus. The actual number, however, could be much higher. We don’t truly know how many cases of coronavirus there are in the United States because our testing regime has been entirely inadequate.

The CDC took weeks to develop testing kits that worked properly, and the federal government was far too slow in allowing hospitals, medical labs, and public health clinics to conduct tests on their own. The New York Times this morning has a story about how doctors and clinicians in Washington State were forced to wait a period of weeks for samples of the coronavirus and approval to test patients for the virus, even after they had suspected cases. The virus was spreading in the United States for weeks, without our knowledge, because we could not reliably test for it.

Even now, the administration has been laggard about making sure that testing kits are available to all who need it, and the United States is trailing countries around the world in our testing capacity. We, who are supposed to have the greatest public health system in the world, are lagging behind many, many countries, and it’s a matter of life and death.

Last night, I spoke with the mayor of New Rochelle, New York, where multiple infections have been confirmed and where residents are now living under a three-square-mile containment area. The mayor told me that, despite the best efforts of the State of New York—and they’re doing a good job—there are not enough coronavirus testing kits for the community. I asked him what his major problem was. He said, “Lack of testing kits. Lack of testing.”

I fear that what is happening in New Rochelle will happen in cities and towns across the country. It is virtually certain that a limited quarantine or containment area will be imposed on other cities like they were in New Rochelle, and we need to make sure that the mistakes that have plagued the whole testing regime is not repeated when other cities have to be under some limited quarantine. Those cities have to be able to get the tests and resources they need, and New Rochelle still isn’t getting them because of the federal government.

Now I honestly don’t know why it has taken so long for the Trump Administration to get a handle on testing, which is the most powerful tool in helping us respond to the spread of the virus.

I honestly don’t know why, after this issue with testing has been glaring and very public, the administration has still not announced anything resembling a coherent plan to fix the problem.

So this morning, I am demanding that the Trump administration do five things to improve the nation’s ability to test for the coronavirus in the United States:

  1. Expedite the approval of labs who are ready and willing to provide testing. Every lab that is able to provide testing should be up and running as soon as possible.
  2. Provide daily updates on the volume of tests both available and expected and set up a special office or bureau within HHS dedicated to managing the acquisition and distribution tests. The conflicting reports and lack of information have left states unable to plan.
  3. Support the use of automated testing to increase the speed and volume with which testing is conducted.
  4. Ensure that patients who need tests face no out-of-pocket costs. The coverage requirements for testing are currently a patchwork of state executive orders and private company actions – we need federal leadership. Hundreds of millions of Americans still do not know if they can access affordable testing.
  5. Ensure that COVID-19 hotlines are fully staffed and responsive to patients and providers who have questions and concerns.

Our top priority at the moment is to confront the spread of this disease head-on. The first step is making sure communities across the country have the testing capability and capacity they need.

The public also needs to receive clear guidance from the federal government regarding how best to avoid contracting this virus. It has been reported that federal health officials recommended that older Americans refrain from air travel for this reason—but that the White House overruled them. What exactly happened here? Were health officials overruled for political reasons? What is the truth? And what is the recommendation of our federal health experts going forward, most importantly?

Now, the coronavirus has also created turbulence in our economy and disrupted daily life for many Americans.

As I’ve said before: by far, the best way to respond to any adverse effects on our economy is to deal with the coronavirus itself. You treat the disease, not the symptoms. But even as we focus primarily on combating the spread of COVID-19, we should consider relief to American families and workers who are impacted.

Later this morning, I will join Senators Murray and Brown, Durbin and Wyden, and others—Cardin—to announce a series of measures Senate Democrats believe we should take up to provide economic relief to working Americans during the coronavirus outbreak. I will have more details at that time—at 11:30—but for now, I want to make one thing clear: when it comes to providing short-term economic relief, our priority should be the American people, not corporations. That means targeted measures that give working families the flexibility and support they need during a medical emergency. That means money goes directly to the people and workers affected and who need help, not money tossed out of an airplane in hope that some lands on the people who need the help.

It does not mean bailing out the oil and gas industry, as the press reported was under consideration at the White House. It does not mean de-regulating the banking industry, as another report said was part of the discussion at the White House. It does not mean another corporate tax cut.

In the face of test shortages, growing cases, lack of medical supplies, President Trump seems more interested in bailing out oil and gas companies, and other big interests, than in helping the families struggling to avoid coronavirus treatment.

As the spread of coronavirus continues within our borders, Democrats remain committed—absolutely committed—to finding ways we can protect Americans most at risk by this disease. President Trump should work with us in Congress to make sure we continue managing this pandemic in a measured, responsible, and transparent manner.