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White House Doesn't Have A Testing Strategy To Help States, Sen. Murphy Says

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The last time Dr. Anthony Fauci testified on Capitol Hill, he gave a warning about how the coronavirus would change American life.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANTHONY FAUCI: Things will get worse than they are right now.

MARTIN: Two months later, times have changed. Today, Dr. Fauci is back to testify before a Senate panel. He'll be joined by the heads of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration, as well and the federal official tasked with overseeing testing. All of these witnesses will be joining the panel remotely after many of them were exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19. So what kind of questions can they expect? we are joined now by Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut. Thanks so much for being with us.

CHRIS MURPHY: Good morning.

MARTIN: Senator, when you consider the federal response to this pandemic, what question is top of mind for you today? You are on the Senate panel, where you will be asking questions of these officials.

MURPHY: Well, in Connecticut, we're going to be opening up our economy slowly starting on May 20. And what keeps me up at night is the fact that we still aren't doing enough testing, and that is largely because the federal government does not have any strategy to help states get the testing machines and the testing equipment that they need.

And so the questions I'll have today are why hasn't the federal government taken a stronger role in the supply chain with respect to testing, personal protective equipment and all of the other medicines that we need in order to survive this crisis? That is going to be the primary question many of us are going to have because, as far as we can tell, the administration has been very reluctant to stand up the kind of production that's necessary to produce tests.

And I think many of us are also worried that there's a very quiet hand from the White House being used, potentially, to push testing machines to places that are politically favorable for the president. And so I have a lot of questions about how we are going to do the testing required to open up the economy. It's one thing to just say we're going to have enough tests; we need a plan, and we haven't gotten that from the administration yet.

MARTIN: And when you - when you're talking about what response you need from the federal government, it's production; it's manufacturing. That's what the federal government can help do when it comes to these tests.

MURPHY: The federal government can certainly help with manufacturing. For instance, in Connecticut, we've been doing thousands less tests than we would like because we don't have enough swabs, and the federal government can clearly make sure that we are producing enough testing swabs. But it's also about distribution. Right now we don't have clear eyes in terms of how the decisions are being made with respect to where these testing machines go.

And many of us do have real worries that the White House is deciding to send machines to places that are politically advantageous to - I hear stories all the time about these testing companies being told by the White House where to send testing machines. That's not OK, especially if the American people can't see how those decisions are being made.

MARTIN: So you say your state is prepping to ease restrictions, to begin to reopen the economy. What do you need to hear from these federal officials today? Setting aside the testing issue, which I understand is critical, but the committee hearing's actually titled Safely Getting Back to Work and Back to School. Is it just testing that's the concern? What else needs to happen before you think the economy can open safely?

MURPHY: Well, it's not just testing; it is also the system of tracing the contacts of those people who are positive and quarantining them that is part of the CDC document that outlines how states reopen. And Connecticut can't pay for that by ourselves. We are, you know, going bankrupt right now because revenues are plummeting and the costs of being a frontline coronavirus state are increasing. So I also need to hear from these Trump officials as to whether they're going to support the funds necessary to help Connecticut pay for that entire public health system.

And then I'd also like to find out what happened to that CDC document? Why aren't we getting more detailed advice from the federal government about how to open? Is it just because the president wants to be able to criticize states without having to refer to any guidance of his own? We need more advice and expertise from the federal government, and that document that apparently has been buried by the White House that gives more detailed information about how states open and when they should potentially close back up again would be really helpful to us. So I want to ask the CDC where that document is.

MARTIN: Is Connecticut really going bankrupt?

MURPHY: Connecticut will go bankrupt if we don't get more assistance from the federal government. I mean, just think about what's happening. We have - are one of the states with the highest per capita death rate. We're right on the border of New York. Our revenues are going through the floor because we have, you know, no businesses that are open. And we have a constitutional obligation to balance our budget on a daily - on a yearly basis. And so if we don't get more assistance from the federal government, if New York doesn't get more, if New Jersey doesn't get more, if Georgia doesn't get more, then there - then, eventually, we simply won't have enough money to be able to meet expenditures and revenue.

MARTIN: Senator, in closing, just briefly, what do you say to Americans who are hurting economically, your residents in Connecticut who need jobs, who need income? I mean, how long can you keep the economy closed down?

MURPHY: Well, the one thing that will crater the economy permanently is a virus that never goes away. Today, 2,000 people a day are dying. If we have 3,000 or 4,000 people dying a day per - across this country this summer or fall, then there is no amount...

MARTIN: OK.

MURPHY: ...Of economic Band-Aids that will be able to compensate...

MARTIN: Yeah.

MURPHY: ...Our states for the costs. So...

MARTIN: Well, we'll have...

MURPHY: ...We have to get this virus right.

MARTIN: Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut. We appreciate it.

MURPHY: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.