Washington – Sen. Chris Murphy on Tuesday pressed Trump administration officials on when they will release more guidance to help coronavirus-hit states begin to reopen, saying what has been available so far is “criminally vague.”
“My state needs it, we don’t have all of the experts that you have,” Murphy said.
Robert Redfield, director of the CDC, declined to commit to a specific timetable on when the agency might release more detailed information. He said the information had been under review by other agencies.
The exchange occurred during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on reopening the economy and schools. The witnesses included Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, who was offsite, as was Redfield and the other two witnesses and most of the senators on the HELP panel. But Murphy and a handful of his colleagues were in the near-empty hearing room, even as it was devoid of witnesses, press and audience.
“You work for a president who is frankly undermining our efforts to comply with the guidance you gave us,” Murphy told the health officials. “The guidance you gave us is criminally vague. The plan to reopen America was to be followed by more nuanced, detailed guidance.”
Murphy pressed the CDC director on a reopening plan his agency had drafted, but not made public – reportedly because the White House thought it was too cautious.
“We’re reopening in Connecticut in days,” Murphy said. “When are we going to receive this guidance?”
Redfield said the plan in question was subject to “an inter-agency review” and additional guidance would be available to states “soon.”
“’Soon’ isn’t terribly helpful,” Murphy shot back.
Testifying before Congress for the first time since President Donald Trump declared the coronavirus crisis a national emergency March 13, Fauci warned of avoidable “suffering and death” and of further economic damage if states reopen too quickly .
He said he is concerned that cities and states are reopening without reaching “checkpoints” outlined by the administration. “I feel if that occurs, there is a real risk that you will trigger an outbreak that you might not be able to control,” he said.
“In fact, paradoxically it will set you back not only leading to some suffering and death that could be avoided but it could even set you back on the road on trying to get economic recovery,” Fauci testified. “That would turn the clock back rather than going forward.”
Most states have yet to meet the most basic reopening benchmarks set out by the White House by last month, even as most move in stages toward lifting social distancing guidelines.
Fauci also said the U.S. death toll from the coronavirus is probably higher than the 80,000 reported.
The chairman of the HELP Committee, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said there is a need to begin a return to normalcy and called for speeding a ramp-up of the nation’s testing and tracing capabilities.
“Staying at home indefinitely is not the way to end this pandemic,” Alexander said. “There is not enough money available to help all those hurt by a closed economy.”
Fauci, Redfield and another witness at the hearing, Stephen Hahn, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, had decided to self-quarantine for two weeks after coming into contact with someone who has tested positive for the coronavirus.
Murphy asked them if they continued to draw government paychecks during their quarantine.
Fauci and Hahn said they were “essential workers,” continued to perform their duties during the quarantine and continued to get paid.
Murphy said they should get paid while taking precautions to keep others safe.
“My point is that quarantine is relatively easy for people like you and me, we can still work and get paid, ” Murphy said. “But there are millions of other Americans who work jobs that can’t be performed from home or are paid by the hour. It is just remarkable to me that this administration has not yet developed a mechanism for states to implement and pay for a quarantine system that will work for all Americans.”
Murphy said reopening plans require states to develop a quarantine plan.
“My state has no clue how to implement and pay for such as system without help from the federal government,” Murphy said.