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The bipartisan House Problem Solvers Caucus said Monday the federal government must take the lead on implementing rapid mass testing for the novel coronavirus, and pushed back on President Trump's effort to lay the responsibility on state governors.
"I think you're going to have to recognize that we, as the national level, are going to require rapid and ubiquitous testing to be put in place," said Rep. Tom Reed, R-N.Y., the co-chairman of the Problem Solvers Caucus. "That will mean mass testing with rapid results... I think there's a national standard that can be deployed there."
Reed and Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., have led a group of 50 House members, equally divided among Democrats and Republicans, that put out a comprehensive plan Monday on how best to reopen the economy safely. The plan, first reported by Fox News, put a top priority on mass testing, even for people not showing symptoms, to ensure that when the economy reopens, people carrying the virus can be identified quickly and not endanger others by heading back to work.
Currently, the U.S. has been testing about 150,000 people a day and Harvard researchers said it needed to ramp up to 500,000-700,000 tests daily to get a handle on the virus. Reed and Gottheimer previously suggested 750,000 daily tests were needed to reopen the economy safely, and they've called on the federal government to take the lead.
Some governors have raised alarms about Trump's push to reopen the economy without rapid mass testing in place, but the president has said it's not his responsibility. "States, not the federal government, should be doing the testing," Trump tweeted Monday, under pressure from a range of leaders about the rocky rollout of testing in the U.S.
Asked about Trump's tweet, the Problem Solvers Caucus leaders Monday said the federal government needed to take responsibility, first with Food and Drug Administration [FDA] approval of new testing and acquiring the actual physical tests so states wouldn't have to compete with each other for ordering the products.
"There's a huge role for the federal government," said Rep. Tom Suozzi, D-N.Y., citing the federal government's effort in securing protective gear and medical supplies for states.
"If we're going to have rapid and ubiquitous testing, not only of people with symptoms but people that are asymptomatic as well ... we're going to need the federal government to help the states get this done. And then, the states are going to have to implement it," Suozzi said.
The Problem Solvers Caucus released its "Back to Work" checklist, poised to be an influential framework in Washington in future rounds of coronavirus relief packages.
A main public-health priority the bipartisan lawmakers have emphasized: rapid testing for diagnosing COVID-19 and serological testing to see who has developed antibodies. They said they'll require the FDA to continue to approve testing methods and for companies to ramp up production to hit the benchmark.
The checklist also called for establishing a federal contact tracing database, similar to how the federal government already has tracked measles.
The lawmakers said the supply chain for personal protective gear also needed to ramp up to cover workers in all essential sectors, from food service to schools. Their checklist called for all K-12 children and teachers having access to protective masks to return to school.
The bipartisan group requested more money for businesses, the agricultural sector, the health-care sector, states and local governments. Renters and homeowners should also get some relief from their mortgage and rent payments too, the plan elaborated.
The Republicans and Democrats said the scale of the public health and economic crisis was so huge, they put aside their differences to release the six-page checklist.
"We need to accept the fact that COVID-19 will be part of society until we have a vaccine," said Rep. David Joyce, R-Ohio. "But, more importantly, we need to plan for it. The importance of rapid mass testing for COVID-19 cannot be understated."
The checklist called for another major infusion of stimulus to jump-start the economy and lawmakers suggested passing a robust infrastructure plan.
"We need to take off our red jerseys or our blue jerseys, and put on our red white and blue jerseys," Joyce said. "I'm proud to be with the group that's doing just that."