Donald Trump is seeking to block billions of dollars in funding for coronavirus testing and contact tracing efforts even as cases rise across the US, where around 70,000 people are testing positive each day.
Senate Republicans are preparing to unveil a new coronavirus relief bill when Congress returns from a two-week recess. The package, which must address the public health threat of Covid-19 and the resulting economic crisis, could be the last relief bill Congress passes before the November elections.
More than 140,000 people have died from Covid-19 in the US and more than 3.7 million cases of the respiratory illness have been identified. Cases were dropping in April, but have since increased sharply across the country.
Trump has repeatedly blamed increased testing for the rise in cases, though that is not what results show.
The World Health Organization advised that before reopening, rates of positivity in testing should remain at 5% or lower for at least 14 days. More than 5% of people are testing positive for coronavirus in 34 of 52 US states and territories, indicating the US is testing too few people to adequately respond to the pandemic, according to Johns Hopkins University.
In states such as Arizona and Idaho, positivity rates are as high as 24% and 18.9% respectively, suggesting the sickest people are overrepresented in tests.
In an interview with Fox News Sunday, conducted on Friday, Trump again said US numbers are skewed by the number of tests being done.
“Cases are up because we have the best testing in the world and we have the most testing,” he said. “We are the envy of the world.”
The Trump administration reportedly wants to cut $25bn Republicans propose allocating for state contact tracing and testing efforts. The White House is also trying to block $10bn for the nation’s top public health agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and $15bn for the top medical research agency, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), as well as money for state and Pentagon anti-Covid efforts abroad.
Trump wants a payroll tax cut, which would mean cuts to social security and other key programs, and told Fox News Sunday he would consider vetoing any stimulus bill if he did not get it. On Sunday the Post reported that Republicans want to reduce unemployment payments from $600 a week to somewhere between $200 and $400.
Francis Collins, director of the NIH and a member of the White House coronavirus taskforce, said on Sunday the taskforce was not engaged in discussions about the proposed spending cuts.
“There’s always this back-and-forth between White House and Congress when it comes to appropriations process,” Collins told NBC’s Meet the Press. “And apparently the opening bid from the White House was a bit surprising, certainly for many of us who were certainly hoping to see more in the way of support.
“But this is one of those things that will play out over the course of the coming days. Let’s see where it ends up.”
Ohio governor Mike DeWine, a Republican, said funding from Congress and the administration has helped boost testing in his state, but more testing is still needed.
“We can only do that with money coming in from the federal government,” DeWine told NBC. “And it has to be over a long period of time. We’re not going to be out of this in a month, or two months, or three months.”
Colorado governor Jared Polis, a Democrat, said the “national testing scene is a complete disgrace”.
Also speaking to NBC, Polis said tests sent to national labs were “almost useless” because it could take a week to get results.
“So while some are still sent out of state, and unfortunately that takes a long time and we can’t count on it and our country needs to get testing right, we’re trying to build that capacity in Colorado to process tests at that one- to two-day turnaround.”
Donna Shalala, a former health secretary who is now a Democratic representative from Florida, said it made “no sense at all” to block funding to fight coronavirus in the next relief bill.
“The lack of leadership in the White House and in our governor’s office, they simply have not hit this with a hammer, which is what we needed to do, and starve the virus,” Shalala told ABC’s This Week.
Florida is governed by Ron DeSantis, a Republican known to some as a “mini-Trump” who authorized reopening measures early and crowed that the state had beaten the virus. Like other southern and western states, Florida is now experiencing alarming rises in cases and hospitalizations.
“They opened too soon,” Shalala said. “And they misunderstand what you need to do – or they understand it and they’re not willing to do it.”
The failure to establish a national protocol for testing is one of several reasons the US is leading the world in coronavirus cases, said Tom Frieden, CDC director under Barack Obama’s administration.
“US has the biggest Covid outbreak in world we are now the driver of the global pandemic,” Frieden tweeted on Saturday night.
“Our response still lacks fundamental, basic elements: coherent leadership, focused programs, rapid turnaround time testing, effective contact tracing, consensus on masks, distancing.”