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Sen. Murray says administration is ‘not transparent’ about virus testing needs

As more states lift restrictions put in place to slow the coronavirus, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions is hearing from health officials on the pandemic response. One of the country's earliest outbreaks of COVID-19 was in Washington state. Its senior senator, Patty Murray, joins Judy Woodruff to discuss her concern about lack of transparency in testing for the virus.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And for a Democrat's take, we turn to the committee's ranking member. She is Senator Patty Murray. She joins us from Washington state, one of the first areas hard-hit by the coronavirus.

    Senator, thank you very much for talking with us.

    We just heard Senator Cassidy say that he is more confident after today's hearing of the administration's handling of this pandemic. Are you?

  • Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.:

    No, I'm not, and here's why.

    We have been hearing from this administration forever: We're going to have this many — 100 tests by Friday, a million tests by — and most of the time, in fact, all the time, they don't reach it.

    And, today, when we're saying, how many do we need to reopen, not just two weeks from now, but next September, a year from now, they are not giving us that number. We need to know how many tests we need, what the capacity is, what the supply chain is, so we can build up to that and make sure we have it. They're not transparent about that. And they're not real about it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, when Admiral Giroir, who is assistant secretary at HHS, was saying in the hearing that there would be, I think he said 40 to 50 million tests being done in the month of September, are you saying that doesn't sound like enough?

  • Sen. Patty Murray:

    Well, I don't know what their goal is, but I will also tell you that I have heard them throw those numbers out time and time and time again now, since the middle of February, and never having reached them.

    So the answer that you really need is, how many will we need in September, and how are you going to produce them? And that's what we don't see, no transparency into that. So I find it hard to believe.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We heard from Senator Cassidy just now. He said: I'm more concerned about testing protocols than I am about the sheer number of tests.

    What about you?

  • Sen. Patty Murray:

    Well, I think it's both.

    I think we need the knowledge. What testing is, is really gives you the knowledge to make the decision you need, if you're just simply a family and you want to know if it's safe for you to go visit your elderly mother, or whether you are a business, and you need to — it's OK to open your doors, your employees are safe.

    If you're a school, are your employees, are your kids free of the virus, so that they don't give it to anybody else? That's why testing is important. It's knowledge.

    And that is why it's so critical in a pandemic, where we do not have a vaccine and we do not have a cure for this very aggressive virus. It's the tool we have.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator, also — excuse me. I didn't want to interrupt.

    But I want to ask you about K-12 schools. A lot of people concerned about whether schools are going to be open in September. We just heard Senator Cassidy say he's more concerned about getting especially children from low-income families back to school in the fall.

    He's more concerned about that than he is at this point about this new inflammatory disease that's been identified among a small number of children.

  • Sen. Patty Murray:

    Well, I don't think that that's the right way the look at it.

    I think we obviously all want kids back in school. Every single parent does. And the answer to that really is, we don't know yet, because this is a new virus, and it has been different, and we're learning every single day.

    I think the question we should all be asking is, how do we make sure our kids get an education next year if this pandemic is raging at any time or the whole year, and make sure they get an equitable education? What are we doing? What are the decisions we're making? How do we plan for that?

    And there is no plan for that. There is no help from CDC, who should be issuing guidelines, or the Department of Education. Knowing that we are in this, what are their best recommendations, and how do we get people ready for what we don't know in the fall, either to have kids back at school safely or to be able to educate them if we can't have them back?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator, what's your best understanding of when a vaccine may realistically be available?

  • Sen. Patty Murray:

    Well, I'm not an expert, but I listen to the experts. And I have watched this for a long time.

    And I think everybody's hope is that we will have a vaccine in the next year. But there's a lot of wish to that, that it's effective, that it's safe, that there aren't any byproducts of that that are more dangerous.

    And how do we ramp it up? What is it going the take? Do we have the vials? Do we have the shots? Do we have the manufacturing capability? And that clearly is not going to happen in a year, even in the best-case scenario.

    So, we have to know what we need to do between now and then. And that is the knowledge. That's why I talk about testing, so we know, if you have it, you stay home. If you know your employees are sick, they are not at work. What's the precautions we need to take? What's the protocol at work, so that it's not passed around? And how do we make those tough decisions that, inevitably, we're going to be faced with in the coming year and maybe longer?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You mentioned going back to work.

    The governor of your state, Governor Inslee of Washington state, has extended the stay-at-home order at least until the end of this month of May. And yet you have something like, what, 800,000 folks in Washington state who have filed unemployment claims.

    What do you say to people who are worried about their livelihood, who are saying, yes, I know, we all have to be careful, but I don't know what kind of life I'm going to have if this goes on much longer?

  • Sen. Patty Murray:

    What I say to those people is that is exactly why the federal government needs to step in right now and provide the support for people, so they don't have to make that horrific choice of being able to put food on their table or be able to pay their rent or be able to survive.

    That's what our role has to be right now, because the other choice is to send people out in a dangerous situation and impact their health and perhaps their life. It's an impossible question, economy vs. health. But there's things we can do so that it is not so impossible. That's what the federal government needs to be doing.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator Patty Murray, ranking member, Democrat, on the Senate Health Committee, thank you so much.

  • Sen. Patty Murray:

    Thank you.

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