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Stefanik breaks with Trump on virus testing

North Country congresswoman says federal government should help states test more people

Rep. Elise Stefanik (Official congressional photo)

U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik on Friday said she believes the federal government should play a role in increasing COVID-19 testing capabilities nationwide, a departure from fellow Republican President Donald Trump’s insistence that states bear the responsibility for purchasing those supplies.

“I think one of the lessons we learned with the (personal protective equipment) and ventilators is we had states competing against one another,” Stefanik said. “We know we need widespread testing across the country. I do think the federal government should play a role in that. We’re not rehashing the challenges we had with PPE, where we saw not just states competing but county-by-county competing to acquire those products.”

Trump and Gov. Andrew Cuomo have repeatedly sparred over ventilators, testing and state versus federal responsibilities amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Cuomo, during his daily press briefing on Friday, requested that the federal government coordinate the supply chain for COVID-19 testing materials such as swabs and the chemical liquid placed in the test tubes, which he said are primarily sourced from China. The federal government coordinating the supply chain would eliminate the sort of state-versus-state competition for materials that can drive up prices and diminish the supply for harder-hit areas, he said.

“This is mayhem,” Cuomo said. “We need a coordinated approach with the federal government.”

Before New York state reopens for business, testing needs to be significantly expanded, he said.

Stefanik, whom Trump named to the Task Force to Reopen the Economy by Trump, has also said increased testing is needed for reopening to happen.

Testing for the virus has been severely limited for weeks in Stefanik’s 21st Congressional District, which includes all or parts of Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Fulton, Hamilton, Herkimer, Jefferson, Lewis, Saratoga, St. Lawrence, Warren and Washington counties. At many North Country hospitals, testing has been restricted to the sickest and most at-risk patients in an effort to conserve testing materials.

In response to a question from the Enterprise during a conference call with reporters on Friday, Stefanik agreed with Cuomo’s request for the federal government to help out with the expansion of testing.

Trump has maintained his position that the federal government should not be involved in testing.

“States, not the Federal Government, should be doing the Testing,” Trump tweeted Monday.

He complained that governors, who last month were asking the federal government for “Ventilators, Ventilators, Ventilators,” are now asking for “Testing, Testing, Testing.”

He said the federal government will work with the governors and get it done, but did not elaborate how he will help.

“This is easy compared to the fast production of thousands of complex Ventilators!,” he tweeted.

Trump has said the U.S. has done more tests than any other country. As of Monday, more than 3.8 million people had been tested for COVID-19 nationwide, according to the COVID Tracking Project. That’s roughly 1.2% of the country’s population.

A March 6 false statement that “Anyone who wants a test can get a test” still hangs over Trump’s head.

New York state, which has by far more confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths — more than 14,000 fatalities, according to the state Department of Health — than any other state, has tested the most people for the virus. As of Monday, 633,861 people had been tested, about 3.25% of the state’s population.

The United States has more COVID-19 deaths than any other country, with 34,203 fatalities as of Monday, according to the World Health Organization. Italy has had the second-most with 23,660 deaths. There have been 157,847 deaths worldwide.

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