Posted on May 13, 2020
MARYVILLE, Tenn., May 13, 2020 — U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today joined FOX News’ “America's Newsroom” to discuss efforts to ramp up COVID-19 testing to allow students to go back to school this fall, and his work as chairman of the Senate health committee during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mr. Chairman, I thought a critical moment was when the Democratic Ranking Member, Patty Murray, pressed Dr. Fauci at one point and said, “If we open up too fast, do you think the consequences will be dire?” And Dr. Fauci testified, “No, I think they’ll be serious.” So we have to take this seriously. But how do we find the balance to not open too soon, but also make sure we get this economy going, sir?
Well we do it state by state, I mean Governor Cuomo does it his way in New York. Governor Lee in Tennessee, for example, has ramped up testing. He’s testing every nursing home. He's testing every prison, we have drive-through testing. You can get a test at the public health department. His motto is “when in doubt, test.” So if you're thinking about going back to school in August, based upon what you heard at the hearing yesterday, you should feel better because according to Admiral Giroir, there should be 40 to 50 million tests available, which means you might test everyone at a school or everyone in a college campus and then isolate anyone who might be sick. That would help everybody else feel better about being safe.
Thanks so much for being on this morning and Rufus, welcome to America's newsroom as well. You referenced the University of Tennessee and the ability to open large universities and college campuses come the fall. You said you're concerned about that, while you heaped praise on the Administration for the number of tests that have been conducted in this country so far. You suggested that we're still not where we need to be to say open the University of Tennessee in September, so what needs to be done? What are you calling on as far as more testing so that we can get kids back to school?
I'm glad you gave me a chance to do that. I think I created a little confusion there. Dr. Fauci was talking about treatments and vaccines. That's what he works on, and everyone knows that vaccines aren't going to be ready by August, and that some treatments medicines will be. But the good news was that tests should be, and if I were president of a university today, I would be planning on going back to school. I know that the University of Tennessee and Middle Tennessee State University is, and many other colleges are. And what I would do to answer your question is I would test every student as they came back. Every faculty member. That doesn't eliminate the disease, but it creates a place to isolate anybody sick and it creates confidence that it’s a safe place. I would work on spacing. I would have administrative staff stay home who weren't needed there. I would stagger the opening of school so that students arrived at different times. Faculty members can teach remotely. There are a number of steps. Masks can be used. We may have to have a culture of masks on college campuses for a while, but I think most students are looking forward to going back to college. And I think because of the advances in testing that we're now making in this country, they'll be able to.
And then shortly after your hearing, as you probably know, the University of California system said, no, we're not coming back this fall. So you've got Americans waking up this morning saying, well, the Chairman of this committee is telling us testing is being ramped up and you can send your kids back to campus this fall. And meanwhile, the University of California is saying, nope.
One great thing about our country is states could do what they want to do. Tennessee colleges I think are going back to school. President Mitch Daniels of Purdue University, which has 55,000 students, he's already announced they're planning to come back and they're developing plans that university will use to keep the students safe and the students want to come back. So it'll be a state by state, campus by campus decision. But I believe as principals and headmasters and chancellors and university presidents and students look at August, they'll become increasingly comfortable with going back to school.
I, as well as many Americans, found yesterday's hearing just fascinating. I heard Dr. Oz this morning talking about how it was healthy for the American people to see these exchanges, questions from members of Congress, and then these health officials at the highest level of the decision making right now, amid this pandemic talking about the most important aspects of reopening our country. You see Rand Paul, your colleague sitting there, he had this exchange with Dr. Fauci where he said, “with all due respect, you are not the end all.”
So if you could respond to that and what was your headline that came of yesterday and do you plan to hold any of these more at any more of these hearings in the future?
Yes, of course we will and I agree. I'm glad the American people got to see that. Because you saw senators from Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders to Rand Paul talk with four of the most talented people in the country in terms of dealing with this problem and asking questions and doing it in a respectful way. I mean, I think it's important for people to see that and it went on for three hours.
Dr. Fauci isn't holding himself up as an omniscient person. He's saying what he thinks as a person who's been in charge of infectious disease since 1984 since Ronald Reagan's day, and then it's up to the president and the governors and the mayors to take that advice and make decisions. For example, he said yesterday in terms of going back to school, it'll be a great surprise if there is a vaccine by the fall, probably we'll have some treatments or medicines.
And then he turned it over to Admiral Giroir to say, but there are going to be plenty of diagnostic tests. Well then a chancellor at the University of Tennessee can make his or her own decision about whether to go back to school. And as far as children go, he was just saying, be very careful about that, that it looks like children don't get the disease as badly as others do, but they carry it. And second, there may be some things we don't know. There's a lot we don't know about the disease. And Dr. Fauci usually is very careful to say, “I don't know” or “I'm cautiously optimistic.” So I wouldn't characterize him as trying to be omniscient. I don't think he tries to do that at all. He gives good advice and then you can take the advice or leave it.
It's an incredibly important job that all of you are doing there. I know Rufus has been enjoying this conversation. He rolled over at one point.
Did he? Well that’s good. We had a good hearing last Thursday with Dr. Francis Collins about our “Shark Tank,” this crash program, to find new diagnostic tests like a lollipop you might put in your mouth with a sponge on it and take a picture of it with your cell phone and you'd know immediately whether you were positive or negative or the new antigen tests, which had been considered. These are the kinds of things that these talented people are working on and they were working on it for us. And we want to create an environment in which the people know what's going on and in which they can succeed.