Alexander: Senate “Pulls Out All the Stops” to Help Increase COVID-19 Testing

Posted on April 21, 2020

MARYVILLE, Tennessee, April 21, 2020 — U.S. Senate health committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today said that the Senate has “pulled out all the stops” to help increase COVID-19 diagnostic testing in order to contain the disease and give Americans the confidence to go back to work and back to school.

Senator Alexander made his remarks after the Senate passed legislation containing provisions he co-authored with Senate health appropriations committee Chairman Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) that will provide an additional $25 billion for COVID-19 testing, including funding a competitive “shark tank” designed to create brand new technologies to produce tens of millions of diagnostic tests by August.

“There is no safe path forward to combat the novel coronavirus without adequate testing,” Alexander said. “To contain COVID-19 and persuade Americans to leave their homes and return to work and school, the United States will need tens of millions of diagnostic tests. We should squeeze every test possible out of current technologies, but we need tens of millions more to really get a handle on how far and wide this disease has spread.”

Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the coronavirus task force, says there are now 1 million tests available weekly; by mid-June, there will be 2 million to 2½ million available.

“That is impressive,” Alexander said, “but not nearly enough. This demand will only grow as the country goes back to work and some 100,000 public schools and more than 5,000 colleges reopen, we hope, in August.”

 “We now have a funded competitive ‘shark tank’ — much like the reality-TV show about entrepreneurs, but this time utilizing the capacities of government itself, in coordination with the private sector — to pull out all the stops and create new technologies designed to produce tens of millions of diagnostic tests by August. If there’s a bold idea out there that will work, this bill will help make sure the funding is available to get these tests in the hands of health care providers quickly. We also should improve serologic tests to determine whether someone already has had the disease and has now created the necessary immunity to hopefully fight off the disease in the future.

“The first place to find these technologies is at the National Institutes of Health, where two dozen early-stage testing concepts are under development. Some utilize CRISPR gene-editing technology. At least one allows you to use your cellphone to photograph your test swab result and send it to a doctor. Several may incorporate wearable technology. By incorporating a shark tank environment in government research, we can more quickly develop the necessary technologies to get more tests into circulation. While there is a risk of failure with any research — in science, success is not guaranteed — we also could produce the one mighty great white shark that will help us combat this disease.”

Alexander said that last month, Congress gave BARDA, NIH and other agencies up to $38 billion for testing, treatments and vaccines to fight this virus. This new funding will advance even further other research, and give money to states to buy testing equipment, improve data reporting, conduct tests and operate testing centers, and implement contact tracing to identify those who’ve come in contact with sick people so they, too, can quarantine themselves — instead of the rest of us quarantining ourselves.

Click here to read the Washington Post op-ed Senator Alexander and Senator Blunt wrote about how to speed up testing.

Congress has now provided $63 billion to date in order to help develop tests, treatments, and vaccines for COVID-19.

The Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act includes $25 billion in funding to improve diagnostic and immunity testing for COVID-19 including:

  • $11 billion for states
  • $825 million for Community Health Centers and rural clinics
  • $1.8 billion for NIH, some of which will support a new “shark tank”
  • $1 billion for BARDA
  • $22 million for FDA
  • $1 billion for CDC

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