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Governors urge White House to help procure testing supplies

Vice President Mike Pence said states are expected

Vice President Mike Pence said states are expected to accelarate coronavirus testing. Credit: AFP via Getty Images/MANDEL NGAN

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump in a Sunday tweet called on governors to “step up and get the job done” in ramping up COVID-19 testing, but governors on both sides of the aisle in hard-hit states warned that an increase in testing is not possible without the federal government coordinating the distribution of scarce testing supplies.

“We will be with you ALL THE WAY!” Trump said in a tweet that came just as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo held a news conference in Manhasset to tout plans to increase antibody testing throughout the state.

The president later said at the daily White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing that he would use the Defense Production Act to compel manufacturers to ramp up production of testing swabs that have been in short supply.

Cuomo, asked about Trump’s tweet, said the federal government must help states pay for testing as they face looming budget shortfalls in the wake of the economically crippling pandemic.

"The states must do their part and the federal government must do its part. That's called partnership. Perfect. I agree,” Cuomo said.

Vice President Mike Pence on Sunday said the Trump Administration expected states could double the number of COVID-19 tests conducted per day, even as governors raised concerns about supply shortages

Pence, appearing on “Fox News Sunday,” and NBC’s “Meet the Press” said the administration expected testing could increase from 150,000 tests per day to 300,000, if governors were to “activate all of the laboratories that are available in their states.”

“We believe that working with the governors, as we’ll continue to partner with them, that we can activate labs across the country,” Pence told “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd.

Pence’s assertion came as other governors, including Maryland Republican Larry Hogan, Michigan Democrat Gretchen Whitmer and Virginia Democrat Ralph Northam, argued that while their states may have the capacity to open labs and scale up testing they are lacking swabs and reagent chemicals needed to run the tests.

“We could double or even triple the number of tests that we're executing daily if we had the swabs and reagents,” Whitmer told CNN’s “State of the Union” host Jake Tapper. “And I know you talked to Governors Northam and Hogan before I came on, and they're saying the exact same thing,” 

Whitmer called on the Trump Administration to “use the Defense Production Act to start making these swabs and reagents, so we can improve testing.”

Cuomo (D-N.Y.), made a similar call for Trump to use the Defense Production Act last week, noting that commercial labs have said they are in need of swabs and testing chemicals.

“It is very hard to bring this to scale, quickly, and we need the federal government to be part of this,” Cuomo said. 

Public health experts have said testing remains a critical part of the federal government’s strategy to reopen the economy, noting that a lack of widespread testing could lead to further outbreaks once social distancing restrictions are relaxed.

Trump on Thursday unveiled federal guidelines to reopen the economy which puts the onus on state governors to implement their opening strategies. Trump’s 18-page plan relies heavily on testing, urging governors not to consider a rollback of social distancing requirements until they start to see a decrease in confirmed COVID-19 cases over a 14-day period.

Gov. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) told NBC’s “Meet the Press” he “could probably double, maybe even triple testing in Ohio virtually overnight” if federal regulators helped get different reagent chemicals approved for use. 

“We have a shortage, worldwide shortage of some of the materials that go into this. So we really need help,” DeWine said.  

Hogan, appearing on CNN, said Maryland has increased testing by 5,000% over the last month, "but it's nowhere near where it needs to be."

“To try to push this off to say that the governors have plenty of testing, and they should just get to work on testing, somehow we aren't doing our job, is just absolutely false,” Hogan said. “Every governor in America has been pushing and fighting and clawing to get more tests, not only from the federal government, but from every private lab in America and from all across the world. And we continue to do so."

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), in an interview with Tapper, called on lawmakers to approve a proposal by Senate Democrats for $30 billion in federal funding for testing.

“We will not be able to get the economy going full-fledged unless we have testing,” Schumer said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appearing on ABC’s “This Week” called on the federal government to secure more rapid testing for states.

"The key that opens the door to the economy is testing, testing, testing,” Pelosi said. “We haven’t done it right ... if we proceed the right way, then we can do that. But we haven’t."

Asked about the calls for a more coordinated national testing effort, Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, appearing on ABC’s “This Week” said the administration has “a team calling every single laboratory” in the United States that has the capacity to test for coronavirus and is encouraging them “to work with each state and local authority to ensure that they have everything that they need to turn on full capacity.”

“We're working on expanding testing strategy across the United States, but in deep partnership with governors and more importantly, in partnership with the lab directors who actually know precisely what the issues are that need to be solved,” Birx told “This Week” host George Stephanopoulos.