Governors plead for Trump admin to streamline testing supply distribution

Dive Brief:

  • Several governors on Tuesday called for better centralized federal procurement and distribution of critical COVID-19 testing supplies like diagnostic swabs and reagents, saying a lack of coordination from the Trump administration is hindering efforts to ramp up testing as they look to safely reopen their economies.
  • Michigan has reached 15,000 tests per day, with the goal of 30,000 tests per day, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, told the House Oversight and Investigations subcommittee​. But, though the state has lab capacity to run 200,000 tests a day,​ supply shortages and uncertainty are a major hurdle to increasing volume, she said.
  • Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, said he thinks it’s “been a fair balance” in terms of authority, noting he likes the flexibility granted to the states. Arkansas, which has seen only minimal COVID-19 cases compared to other states, tested 8,000 people a day in May, an increase from 1,000 to 1,500 people daily in late April.

Dive Insight:

The administration still faces criticism for a lack of widespread testing in the U.S. six months into the novel coronavirus pandemic, even as President Donald Trump urges states to fully reopen despite the threat of a resurgence.

Faced with a dearth of federal guidance, states have scrambled to develop their own diagnostic strategies and supply chains, driving up prices for essential components like swabs and reagent chemicals.

“We’re competing against other countries, which is to be expected. What the surprise element is, here we’re competing against other states and sometimes our own federal government,” Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, said.

Whitmer and Polis also noted an uneven and delayed distribution effort by HHS and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, saying the federal government promises one thing from the national stockpile and delivers another.

Since state and local public health agencies, hospitals, commercial labs and pharmacies rely on a slew of different types of tests all requiring different components, the uncertainty about federal supplies — and the federal government’s role in distributing them — is complicating states’ efforts to execute a coordinated diagnostic plan statewide at a critical juncture in the pandemic, the governors said.

“When we expect 180,000 diverse swabs and get 180,000 foam swabs, we’re grateful for the foam swabs. But that means we can’t do all those other types of tests,” Whitmer said.

Calls by state officials for clearer and more specific White House guidance have generally gone unanswered, as the president continues to downplay the importance of testing.​

Only about 17.7 million tests have been conducted to date, according to the COVID Tracking Project — little more than 5% of the population. HHS testing czar Brett Giroir told a May 12 Senate committee hearing the U.S. would be able to test between 40 million and 50 million people per month by September, mostly in point-of-care tests in hospitals and doctor’s offices. That represents a significant jump from current testing levels.

​The sweeping Democrat-backed HEROES Act, passed by the House last month, would allocate $75 billion to create a national evidence-based system for testing and contact tracing, and institute a national chain of command for supply purchasing and allocation, including a supply chain czar.

That $3 trillion bill has very little chance in the Senate, though Trump has said he’s open to another round of relief legislation.​