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At hearing with top government health officials Senator Murray presses officials about ability to quickly scale up testing

Senator Murray also asks about public health implications of not guaranteeing paid medical leave 

Hearing comes following reports of new cases across the country, declaration of state of emergency in Washington state 

Yesterday, Murray also pushed the Departments of Education and Labor to provide details on how they plan to protect students, teachers, families, and workers against the spread of the coronavirus

Senator Murray: “To put it simply, if someone at the White House or in this Administration is actually in charge of responding to the coronavirus, it would be news to anyone in my state.”

***WATCH SENATOR MURRAY’S OPENING REMARKS HERE***

***WATCH SENATOR MURRAY’S QUESTIONING HERE***

***WATCH SENATOR MURRAY’S CLOSING REMARKS HERE***

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, at the Senate health committee hearing on the emerging threat of the novel coronavirus, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), the top Democrat on the committee, pressed public health officials on the critical need for a comprehensive, fact-driven response. At the hearing, Senator Murray asked officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Institutes of Health (NIH), Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about our ability to quickly scale up testing, following reports of new cases across the country and in Washington state.

In her opening remarks, Senator Murray outlined the need for an emergency supplemental funding agreement that would go far beyond the Trump Administration’s inadequate proposal and reimburse state and local public health officials in Washington state and across the country, support the development of a vaccine, and invest in public and global health programs to ensure we are fully prepared to respond to future emergencies. Senator Murray also stressed the need to account for the many ways that the Trump Administration’s efforts to sabotage health care could impact the coronavirus response by making it harder for people to access the care they need. She specifically noted that it is crucial to ensure that cost does not become a barrier to accessing diagnostic tests or any future vaccine.

During questioning, Senator Murray also asked about the public health implications of not guaranteeing paid medical leave. Currently, many people cannot follow the CDC’s advice to stay home from work if they are sick without losing a paycheck.

“I’m hearing from people who want to get tested and believe they have been exposed—but nobody can tell them where to go. I’m hearing that even when people can get tested—and it’s very few—the results aren’t coming back as fast as we’ve been told they would,” said Senator Murray.

“The Administration had months to prepare for this—and it is unacceptable that people at risk of infection in my state and nationwide can’t even get an answer as to whether or not they are infected.  To put it simply, if someone at the White House or in this Administration is actually in charge of responding to the coronavirus, it would be news to anyone in my state.  And I have been on the phone with officials for days now,” continued Senator Murray.

Senator Murray has been closely monitoring the spread of novel coronavirus in the U.S and in Washington state, and has pressed the Trump Administration regarding its response to the virus, including questioning HHS Secretary Alex Azar on the administration’s preparedness for the burgeoning public health crisis during a Senate hearing last week. Additionally, Senator Murray has requested that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia provide details on how they plan to protect students, teachers and other school staff, families, and workers against the spread of the virus.

Senator Murray’s full opening remarks are below.

Thank you Mr. Chairman. And thank you to all our witnesses for joining us today.

I am so grateful to the women and men out there working to keep our country safe. I hope you’ll all pass that along to the teams you work with.

This is a frightening time. Six people have already died in my state as a result of this virus according to the most recent reports. We expect the number of infections to continue to grow. 

And people across Washington state—and the nation—are really scared.

I’m hearing from people who want to get tested and believe they have been exposed—but nobody can tell them where to go.

I’m hearing that even when people can get tested—and it’s very few—the results aren’t coming back as fast as we’ve been told they would.

The Administration had months to prepare for this—and it is unacceptable that people at risk of infection in my state and nationwide can’t even get an answer as to whether or not they are infected. 

To put it simply, if someone at the White House or in this Administration is actually in charge of responding to the coronavirus, it would be news to anyone in my state. And I have been on the phone with officials for days now.

And that is completely unacceptable.

We are now seeing community transmission of this virus. Families deserve to know—and fast—when testing will actually be ready to scale up, what they should be doing, and most importantly what we are doing.

And, unfortunately, I have to say that while I’m profoundly grateful for the work public health officials are doing—I’m frustrated at the steps the President himself has taken, from repeatedly contradicting experts’ advice, to downplaying the seriousness of the threat we face, to appointing a politician, to lead this response.

So I am glad we will have the opportunity to hear directly from the experts today and get answers to questions I’m hearing back at home I know people want answered—one of which is, again, exactly when are we going to scale up testing, especially now that we are beginning to see community transmission in the U.S.?

After all, it is only after a long, frustrating delay that we are finally able to test patients for this disease at state labs across the country. And the last few days seem to confirm what experts have warned—this is likely to continue spreading. We now have more than 100 cases of novel coronavirus that have been tested in our country, including repatriated cases.

While there’s a lot we are still learning about the novel coronavirus, a few things are abundantly clear about how we need to respond.

First, we need to be listening to the experts and ensuring facts and science drive our response. 

In particular, the public needs to be able to trust that the information they’re hearing from experts in the federal government is in no way influenced by political considerations or by ideology.

And that the policies being put in place are based on evidence about how to keep families safe, not fear or prejudice.

I was heartened to hear your assurances, Dr. Fauci, that contrary to reporting, you have not been ‘muzzled’ by the Administration.

It is essential that continue to be the case. We cannot have an effective response without accurate information and transparency from the Administration, and I will continue to be very focused on this.

Second, we need to provide adequate resources to meet the needs of our federal, state, and local health officials.

Because we know resources that come through programs like CDC’s Public Health Emergency Preparedness program are absolutely critical—but also were never envisioned to be sufficient to respond to a threat like this one.

So we have a lot more to do.

Congress is now working on a bipartisan emergency supplemental funding agreement that will reimburse state and local public health officials for costs they have already incurred combating coronavirus and provide additional resources to our communities, guarantee resources are available to respond to outbreak hotspots, support development of vaccines and therapeutics to prevent and treat this virus, and invest in public and global health programs to keep us prepared to respond to future emergencies.

I want to recognize the Republicans and Democrats who came together to work quickly on this package. And I urge the Senate to pass it very quickly.

And I’m glad we are working toward an agreement that goes well beyond President Trump’s inadequate request for $1.25 billion dollars in new funding. And I really again urge the Senate to take this up as soon as the House, get it passed and get it to our local communities who are dealing with this.

And I’m encouraged by this Committee’s strong bipartisan record in responding to public health emergencies as well.

Just last year, this Committee strengthened and reauthorized the law underpinning so many of the federal efforts and resources we’re seeing employed today.

So I especially want to thank you, Mr. Chairman, for our work together, and Senators Casey and Burr for their efforts on that.

Third, we need to be sure we aren’t just responding to the latest developments, but staying ahead of this crisis by planning ahead—because this likely isn’t ending any time soon.

We are already seeing some of the challenges that will come next, like the strain this will put on our health care system.

We need to make sure our hospitals have the capacity to address this virus, without overwhelming their ability to provide other care people need.

We need to make sure health care workers caring for coronavirus patients are safe from infection themselves, including by making sure we have a sufficient supply of protective equipment.

We need to manage our nation’s drug and medical device supply—especially considering we expect demand for some supplies, and we’re already seeing that, to skyrocket, and how many drugs and devices are manufactured in countries where an outbreak could interrupt production—something that we again are already seeing.

We also need to give adequate attention to public health education.

In an age where disinformation has been weaponized and falsehoods and rumors can gain traction as we all know faster than ever. We absolutely can’t let conspiracies stoke reckless panic, spur ugly discrimination, spread dangerous misinformation, or undermine our public health experts.

We need to actively take steps to prevent and respond to bullying and harassment motivated by stereotypes and fear.

And we also have to account now for the ways the President’s harmful health care policies have undermined our ability to respond to public health threats.

As a result of the Administration’s sabotage of the health care system, our uninsured rate has started going up for the first time in years and junk plans—which aren’t required to cover diagnostic tests or vaccines—are expanding.

These politically motivated, irresponsible actions by the President make it much harder for people to get the care they need to keep this crisis under control.

So we have to make sure everyone who needs it has access to diagnostic testing going forward.

And while a vaccine is likely still over a year away, we absolutely need to make sure cost isn’t a barrier there as well.

But it’s not just our health care system we need to be considering as we work to stay ahead of this disease.

Communities and families right now are facing their own difficult decisions, like: What measures should schools take to keep students safe? What can parents do? And when should schools close?

Employers and workers in my state will face similar questions about whether their employees should go to work, and whether they should stay open.

I’m going to be pressing Secretary DeVos more later this week about how her Department is helping prepare for these issues—and I’ve written to Secretary Scalia about this too.

And as is so often the case, this public health threat will have hidden and higher costs for those who are low-wage workers, who don’t have affordable child care, who don’t have health insurance, and who are experiencing homelessness.

In my home state people are being told to stay home for two weeks if they are sick. There aren’t tests, so they can’t get tested—guess who can’t stay home? If you don’t have child care, if you’re a low wage worker, if you don’t have sick leave

When those people’s basic needs are not met, they can’t make the choices that best protect themselves—which means they can’t make the choices that best protect others too—because one person getting sick has repercussions for all of those around them.

Situations like this remind us we are all a community in a very real sense, and we all have a stake in one another’s wellbeing.

So, when we discuss the impacts of this health threat, I want to be clear this is not just about changes in the stock market.

But that we also develop plans responsive to the day-to-day experience families actually have—and that is something I plan to raise today—and will keep raising.

I look forward to hearing from all of our witnesses about how we best prepare our communities for what’s next.

I’m going to continue working with you and our health officials to keep families in Washington state and across the country informed of what they should be doing—and what we are doing—and to keep them safe.

And I’m going to continue pushing to make sure that as this situation develops further, we keep listening to the experts, providing our health officials the resources they need, and planning for the long term.

Thank you.

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