Gov. Jared Polis, along with two of his fellow governors, told a congressional panel on Tuesday that the federal government's unreliability in delivering testing supplies and personal protective equipment frustrated their efforts to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The first wave isn’t over,” Polis said. Observing that there was a state of emergency in all 50 states, he requested collaboration with the federal government.
“We have to go out and purchase our own" supplies, said Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, D-Mich.
"If in fact the federal government does come through at a certain date at a certain time, we might have too much of something and not enough of something else,” she said.
Whitmer, also speaking before the Oversight and Investigation Subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee, leads a state with a relatively high number of infections, and whose stay-at-home order was the subject of armed protests at the state capitol. She asked for consistency and transparency from the federal government, noting that the federal response suffered from vague commitments and missed delivery dates for supplies.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson, R-Ark., who never issued a stay-at-home order, said that in his state, “hospital capacity is not an issue anymore … The most important thing is we have to manage this risk.”
U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, who chaired the committee meeting, said that only 17 million COVID-19 tests have been conducted, but the White House’s handling of the crisis had amounted to “untruth after untruth.”
“There’s only so much that any one governor can do,” she said.
The chair of the full committee, U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., said, “I guess I’m being a little partisan now, I really do not trust the president to implement any kind of national strategy for the supply chain, the testing.”
Pallone added that the “constant effort to say it's the state's responsibility...I don’t believe that.”
The subcommittee’s top Republican, U.S. Rep. Brett Guthrie, R-Ky., cited a recent report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services anticipating that the country will be able to conduct 40 million to 50 million tests per month by the fall. However, the department put the burden on states to “establish a robust testing program that ensures adequacy of COVID-19 testing,” with a goal of testing 2% of their populations per month.
“I like the flexibility that’s been given to the states,” Hutchinson responded. “It’s been federal support with state flexibility.”
Whitmer added that Michigan has the capacity to perform 25,000 tests per day, but has not hit that mark. Polis added that Colorado “would love to be testing workers once per week” in senior care facilities.
“The information that we’re given sometimes is inaccurate about what types of supplies are being shipped,” Whitmer said. “It’s made our planning very difficult.”
Polis explained that the benefit of testing was avoiding further statewide stay-at-home orders that would arise from not knowing the scope of infections. “For the vaccines we have, namely the flu vaccine, we're doing a major effort heading into late summer and fall to increase our flu vaccine rates,” he said. “The last thing we want is a resurgence in COVID patients coupled with a worse-than-average flu season that would only contribute to overrunning our hospitals.”
Speaking to the state’s modeling, he said that the projections showed that by “taking no action, the virus would have killed over 30,000 Coloradans by now.” He described the state’s involvement in the safety of congregate care facilities and the promotion of a “mask-wearing culture” as being key to Colorado’s response.
Briefly, the virtual committee hearing received a challenge from U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., who questioned whether the rules permitted remote participation. DeGette responded that the hearing aligned with House protocols, and Polis corroborated the wisdom of conducting business according to distancing guidelines.
“We’re able to have this conversation in just as effective a way while being safe,” he said.