March 17, 2020

Van Hollen, Warren, Colleagues Demand Answers from Trump Administration on Shortage of COVID-19 Diagnostic Testing Kits

Today, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) joined Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and 14 of their Senate colleagues in sending a letter to Vice President Mike Pence, head of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, and Assistant Secretary of Health Brett Giroir, coordinator for diagnostic testing efforts, requesting information on the Trump Administration's failure to ensure that diagnostic tests are available for the novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). 

“This failure has resulted in a significant delay in detecting and responding to the first cases of COVID-19 in the United States, dramatically increasing the scope of the epidemic, and placing millions at risk,” the senators wrote in their letter. “These problems...have been exacerbated by the numerous false statements by Vice President Pence, by other members of the Task Force, and by President Trump about the status of testing.”

The ability to accurately and swiftly test for COVID-19 is critical to making public health decisions-like social distancing, quarantining, and contact tracing-which can slow the exponential growth of the virus. However, since the first confirmed case of COVID-19 was reported in the United States in January, the Trump Administration's disjointed effort to coordinate the federal government response to the outbreak has placed a significant burden on hospitals and health care providers who have not been able to adequately access diagnostic tests. According to National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci, our testing system is “failing” and “is not really geared to what we need right now.”

In their letter, the senators laid out a series of missteps by the Trump Administration related to the rollout of diagnostic tests, such as delays in the  development of CDC's own diagnostic test; distribution to states and local labs of hundreds of faulty test kits that delivered inconclusive results; and an ongoing series of false statements from President Trump and other key officials about the country's diagnostic capacities-spreading confusing and untrue information about the availability of tests for the general public.

“The Administration's continued failure to ensure a sufficient number of diagnostic testing kits for COVID-19 are available, and its inability to provide clear and honest answers about this problem in the midst of this public health emergency, is unacceptable. The American public deserves answers,” the senators continued. 

To address their concerns, the senators asked Vice President Pence and Assistant Secretary Giroir to answer a series of questions about the nation's testing capacity, the Trump Administration's inability to provide clear information, and purported manufacturing shortages facing labs across the country.

Joining Senators Van Hollen and Warren in sending the letter are Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.), Robert P. Casey, Jr. (D-Pa.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), and Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Cory A. Booker (D-N.J.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). 

The full text of the letter is available here.