Washington-– Rep. Jim Himes and  Sen. Richard Blumenthal are among a number of lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans, who said they are both frustrated and concerned by administration reports that the health-care system is not capable of handling large volume coronavirus testing.

Blumenthal said Thursday he has been told by the attending physician of Congress, Dr. Brian Monahan, that 70 million to 150 million people would contract the COVID-19  in the United States. But those estimates are guesswork because of “insufficient testing,” Blumenthal said.

Himes, D-4th District, said the lawmakers learned some new things about the virus in a closed-door briefing of House members Thursday, but  also said Trump administration officials did not provide answers to the critical question he and other lawmakers get asked every day: “Am I going to be able to get tested?”

“So, I don’t think we have confidence in an answer there,” Himes said. “If anything, there was a little bit of anxiety.” Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., came out of the meeting with a similar impression, saying the briefing “was coated with confusion.”

Rep. Jim Himes says Trump officials can’t answer critical question asked by constituents,’which is, am I going to be able to get tested?’
Rep. Jim Himes says Trump officials can’t answer critical question asked by constituents,’which is, am I going to be able to get tested?’

See related story: Connecticut’s limited testing could hamper its ability to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the general population, experts say.

Lawmakers were briefed by nine administration officials, including Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services; Steve Redd, senior advisor for COVID-19 response at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Anthony Fauci, director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

The question of testing has been raised by lawmakers at a rash of congressional hearings – and the lack of a clear answer to why the United States has lagged behind other nations in testing has frustrated members of Congress.

Himes said health officials told lawmakers the United States can now test 16,000 people a day, but South Korea, a much smaller nation, tests 10,000 people a day. “So that makes you nervous that people who should get tested won’t be able to,” Himes said.

Himes said the nation’s top health officials did not make any projections on the percentage of Americans who are likely to contract the virus.

At a congressional hearing Thursday, Fauci admitted the U.S. coronavirus testing system is flawed. “The system was geared for the individual doctor, patient. What we’re going through now transcends that. We need to do more than that,” the nation’s top epidemiologist said.

Fauci also said he hopes to announce in the next few weeks that the first American has been injected with a coronavirus vaccine, the beginning of clinical trials. But he stressed that it would take another year or a year and a half before the Food and Drug Administration could make sure the vaccine works.

After an administration briefing to senators on Thursday, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. also said there is deep frustration about the availability of testing kits. “We lost more than two months because of the lack of testing and the failure of this administration to face the truth,” he said.

He also said “this briefing today provided no specifics, no plan and no strategy, which is appalling and astonishing.”

Blumenthal said “there ought to be a commission” to investigate “where the federal government went wrong and how to prevent it from happening again.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., a gastroenterologist, said the CDC has told him it doesn’t have the  capability to do “track and trace” of coronavirus like they do in South Korea and Taiwan.

Connecticut has received two testing kits from the CDC, each capable of between 500 and 600 tests. Before receiving the second test last weekend, Connecticut limited testing to those who had traveled to certain countries and had become ill,  even though the CDC recommended broader testing.

This week, commercial labs, including LabCorp and Quest Diagnostics, have begun to administer coronavirus tests, but only on a doctor’s order.

According to CDC guidelines, doctors are limited to prescribing testing only for those who have exhibited the flu-like symptoms of the disease.

Fauci said the CDC is currently trying to set up broader testing in six cities. Instead of waiting for people to require doctors to prescribe a test, the CDC will test all patients who have flu symptoms  to try to estimate how much of the U.S. population has the virus.

The virus has now spread across 44 states and Washington, D.C.

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Ana has written about politics and policy in Washington, D.C.. for Gannett, Thompson Reuters and UPI. She was a special correspondent for the Miami Herald, and a regular contributor to The New York TImes, Advertising Age and several other publications. She has also worked in broadcast journalism, for CNN and several local NPR stations. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Journalism.

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7 Comments

  1. Good to see that our legislature is politicizing the national health scare. Instead of offering their leadership, they decide to slam republicans instead.

    1. You mean like the “leadership” from the current administration? You know, when the president addressed the nation and the market opened almost 2,000 points down. Or when they decided not to use the virus testing kits provided by the WHO. Or when they wouldn’t let the cruise ship dock in California because the number of cases in America would double and make trump look bad. Yeah, real leadership by the GOP. They would never inject politics into an issue as serious as this…

  2. Blumenthal and Murphy use CTs “donor status” as a state that pays more into the fed, as leverage to boost their own political profile. FYi sentsors, our CT cities are crumbling. Yet when was the last time a CT senators did something for CT? Waterbury, Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven, Norwich, and every municipality paying taxes to support these cities,,,remember us?

  3. This coronavirus highlights the obvious. Our country needs serious healthcare reform. Capitalism rules. Our system is a hodge podge of a million and one pockets of money making pieces. No structural cohesiveness. Insurance companies are making gobs of money. Pharmaceuticals are making gobs of money. Suppliers are making gobs of money. Families are paying $20,000 a year for a lousy policy whereby besides the $20,000, they have $7,000 annual deductibles they potentially have to pay out before the damn insurance companies pay anything besides a few things like your annual physical. But, oh,hhhhh, it’s socialism to suggest anything otherwise the Republicans say!!!!! We are a stupid country to tolerate this.

    1. William,
      This is the U.S. government. We are the richest and most powerful country on earth for over 80 years now. We spend enormous amounts of money on everything and anything. Thus, We SHOULD be the most prepared and have the most expertise, and systems in place. It’s called Leadership. It’s called planning for tomorrow vs. just today.

      1. Okay, we will just keep failed system we have. And keep paying year over year cost increases, gobbled up by Wall Street and capitalistic price gougers.And
        I get it. I know what you’re saying. But government system is only alternative. And we the people have to demand it to be accountable as best as any big system can possibly be with, all its inherent inefficiencies. Because right now, the health care industry is sucking so much money out of American households annual budgets, it is killing our country. Not to mention all the folks who can’t afford any care to begin with.

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