I KNOW that a major question on the minds of many Granite Staters and Americans right now is how — and when — we can reopen our economy while also keeping people safe and healthy.
Ultimately, governors, local officials, and public health experts will decide how and when to lift stay-at-home orders based on what is happening on the ground. But the federal government must provide the resources and guidance necessary to allow states to begin reopening businesses and schools when appropriate.
Last week, I participated in a call with President Trump and a bipartisan group of Senators to provide counsel to the President on what we need from the administration to help states eventually reopen in the wake of COVID-19.
Public health experts have made clear that in order to safely begin to reopen our economy, our country needs a massive expansion of testing – a point that many Senators emphasized with the President. We are now running about 150,000 diagnostic tests per day, but some experts say that number needs to be well over a million. I am focused on increasing our federal government’s resources and coordination in order to make that happen.
To start, we need to significantly increase our overall capacity for diagnostic testing. This requires a nationwide effort both to increase the supply of tests and also to ensure the availability of supplies needed to administer tests, such as swabs and chemical reagents. As testing increases, it also is vital that we have enough personal protective equipment for medical professionals to safely administer tests, and I will keep pushing the administration to address persistent supply chain issues around this equipment.
We must also target diagnostic testing to particular groups that may be at risk. In Detroit, Mich., for example, local officials were able to provide rapid tests for first responders, bus drivers, and health care workers – all of whom are at a higher risk for infection. Eventually, as we increase testing supplies, we should also engage in random testing of asymptomatic individuals, particularly in hard-hit communities, in order to stop additional spread before it begins.
Next, we need to scale up efforts to conduct antibody tests (which are also known as serology tests). These tests aren’t designed to show who has an active COVID-19 infection, rather, they can help show who has already been exposed, recovered, and therefore has potentially developed immunities against it.
Testing alone, however, is not enough. We also need to expand aggressive contact tracing. Contact tracing involves locating and notifying people who have come into direct contact with those who have been infected and isolating them as well. At the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, public health officials conducted extensive contact tracing — but as cases have risen, public health departments across the country have been too overwhelmed to effectively carry out this work.
Expanding contact tracing will require additional federal resources and workforce training — and the economic benefits would be significant. If we are able to successfully track down everyone who has been exposed and isolate them for the period when they could be contagious, then governors may be able to institute more narrow restrictions on the rest of society.
Amid this pandemic, private researchers and labs — as well as state and local officials — will continue to play important roles in expanding testing. However, comprehensive federal coordination — particularly in ensuring adequate supplies, but also in data collection and reporting — is essential for any nationwide testing plan to truly work. I will continue pushing the White House to use its existing powers to pursue an effective plan, and I will keep working with Republicans and Democrats in Congress on additional legislation as needed.
There is no doubt that increasing our testing capacity will be a massive effort, but it is essential in order to safely reopen our economy.
We must also acknowledge that even when we begin to reopen the economy, the virus will remain a significant threat until a vaccine can be made affordable and available to all. Without a widely available vaccine, there may be times when we have to reinstate aggressive social distancing guidelines to address new outbreaks and hotspots.
I know this is an unsettling time, but I also know the strength and resolve of Granite Staters and the American people. The road ahead will be difficult, but by working together, we will get through this.