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4 Top U.S. Public Health Officials Testify Before The Senate


Top public health officials testified today at a semi-virtual Senate hearing on the coronavirus pandemic. They were grilled on testing strategies, contact tracing, vaccine development and reopening the country. A healthy dose of caution came from Dr. Anthony Fauci, who testified via video conference.


ANTHONY FAUCI: If we do not respond in an adequate way when the fall comes, given that it is without a doubt that there will be infections that will be in the community, then we run the risk of having a resurgence.

CHANG: We're joined now by Senator Patty Murray of Washington state. She is the top Democrat on the Senate Health Committee, and she attended the hearing while at home today.


PATTY MURRAY: Well, nice to talk to you today.

CHANG: So today, all of us heard from the head of the FDA, the head of the CDC, Dr. Fauci from NIH, all leading members of the White House's coronavirus task force. And I'm wondering, listening to them today, do you personally believe that the Trump administration has a handle on this pandemic at this moment?

MURRAY: I wish I could say yes to that. But clearly, the answer is no. We are months into this now, and we do not have the capability across the nation to contain this virus so that we can track it, trace it and make sure that people don't continue to spread it. And we don't have the right kind of information we need on how to get out of this safely to reopen. Do we have enough tests? Do we have enough PPE? Do we have enough procedures in place so that people have the confidence to come out and participate in the economy again? I heard a lot of words, but from most of them, I did not hear, this is our plan. This is what we need, and we're going to have this ready. And that didn't give me a lot of confidence.

CHANG: And how much do you trust that the officials you heard from today were able to testify independently and candidly, free from any pressure from the White House?

MURRAY: I mean, that's always hard to say. I'm sure they're probably looking over their shoulder. But their answers, as I listen to them, were clearly that this administration did not have a plan, does not have a plan, doesn't intend to have a plan. And without that, we don't have the knowledge just as basic citizens or businesses or community leaders to be able to make the right decisions to help get people safe and healthy and back into the economy.

CHANG: I want to talk about reopening the economy. I mean, in your opening statement today, you urged extreme caution when it comes to reopening the economy. But some of your Republican colleagues want to reopen more aggressively. Here's Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, for example.


RAND PAUL: In rural states, we never really reached any sort of pandemic levels in Kentucky and other states. We have less deaths in Kentucky than we have in an average flu season. It's not to say this isn't deadly. But really, outside of New England, we've had a relatively benign course for this virus nationwide.

CHANG: He uses benign course. That is the phrase he uses. I mean, what's your response to Senator Paul's point there that different states have different risk levels and should therefore reopen accordingly?

MURRAY: There isn't one person that doesn't wish we were back to where we were six months ago and not worried about this. But we know too much now. We know that we have a very aggressive virus in our communities. And it spreads rapidly, and it can be deadly. And we know the numbers. So why take a risk? Work with what you know.

And I disagree with him that we can just pretend everything's OK and send everybody out, and it'll work its way out. You know, that's how people get sick and die. And everybody's got a relative they care about or themselves. They don't want to have this happen. And it doesn't have to happen if it's done wisely and safely and effectively.

CHANG: On testing, you spoke to us about two months ago early in the outbreak when your state, Washington, was already getting hard-hit by the coronavirus. Back then, you criticized the CDC for a delay in testing. Now testing capabilities have ramped up pretty significantly since then. Does your state now have all the testing it needs, you think?

MURRAY: Well, we do have the CDC saying and Giroir saying that they - we will get some for the next few weeks. But what we don't know is what happens the week after that. No one thinks this virus is going away in two weeks, two months or even a year or two. So we need to know, how many are we going to need? How much PPE? How much tests? How much of the supply chain needs to be there so we ramp up to meet that goal? And no one is putting that out there. They're simply going day to day - well, today, we have 250,000. Next week, we have this. We need to be much smarter and wiser. And that's why I've been calling on the administration and required them in our COVID package to have a plan to us by May 24 of what we're going to need. Then we can work to meet those goals rather than just randomly throwing out promises, most of which have not been kept yet.

CHANG: Democratic Senator Patty Murray of Washington state, thank you very much for joining us today.

MURRAY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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