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Pandemic Containment Funding in Jeopardy

When President Trump asserted, "We do too much (coronavirus) testing," he wasn't kidding. He wants to strip $25 billion in funding for testing and tracing needed by states where COVID-19 cases are surging and testing is not meeting demand.
July 20, 2020, 11am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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Jack Fordyce

With coronavirus cases increasing in 40 states, staying roughly the same in eight, and decreasing in two, according to The New York Times coronavirus tracker on July 19, we hear from Erica Werner and Jeff Stein of The Washington Post that the Trump administration objects to the inclusion of billions of dollars of funding for two key coronavirus containment strategies, diagnostic testing and contact tracing needed to "flatten the curve," particularly in southern and western states where the virus is surging.

One person involved in the talks said Senate Republicans were seeking to allocate $25 billion for states to conduct testing and contact tracing, but that certain administration officials want to zero out the testing and tracing money entirely. Some White House officials believe they have already approved billions of dollars in assistance for testing and that some of that money remains unspent.

16-page plan [pdf] prepared by the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) to contain the coronavirus explains the importance of testing and tracing. The plan remains as relevant today as when it was published on April 10. From the executive summary:

In order to save lives, reduce COVID-19’s burden on our healthcare system, ease strict social distancing measures, and confidently make progress toward returning to work and school, the United States must implement a robust and comprehensive system to identify all COVID-19 cases and trace all close contacts of each identified case.

However, the idea of a national plan to tackle testing and tracing appears anathema to the Trump administration.

Trump and other White House officials have been pushing for states to own more of the responsibility for testing and have objected to creating national standards, at times seeking to minimize the federal government’s role.

President Trump has repeatedly questioned the value of conducting widespread coronavirus testing, arguing that if there were fewer tests conducted, the number of infections would be lower

Will Senate Republicans break from Trump?

"The administration’s posture has angered some GOP senators...and some lawmakers are trying to push back and ensure that the money stays in the bill," add Werner and Stein. "As it currently stands, the main bottleneck to a big ramp-up in testing is less technical than the White House’s own intransigence," stated a policy expert at a right-leaning think tank.

The negotiations center around a bill Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is preparing to unveil this coming week as part of negotiations with Democrats on what will likely be the last major coronavirus relief bill before the November election.

In addition to the $25 billion in the form of grants for states to conduct testing and tracing, the Senate Republican draft proposal allocates "about $10 billion for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and about $15 billion for the National Institutes of Health, according to a person familiar with the tentative plans, who cautioned that the final dollar figures remained in flux," reports Emily Cochrane for The New York Times.

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