Federal government needs ‘coordinated effort’ on coronavirus testing, says fmr. Obama official

Criticism over insufficient coronavirus testing in the U.S. has focused in recent days on mixed messages from government officials — after President Donald Trump falsely boasted on Saturday that the U.S. had conducted more tests for the disease than “all major countries” combined, and that same day the federal government’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said the U.S. needs to double its testing capacity in the coming weeks.

In a newly released interview, taped on Friday, former U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker — who served under Barack Obama — said the lack of adequate coronavirus testing stemmed from inaction by the federal government, which she said needs to coordinate a nationwide plan and provide the medical supplies necessary to execute it.

“It shouldn’t be that every state has to be figuring out how to get enough testing capability and equipment,” says Pritzker, an heir to the Hyatt Hotel fortune.

The federal government “needs a coordinated effort around things like testing,” she adds.

“Why isn’t there a national effort that basically is providing a supply chain of whatever you need in order to be able to test?” she asks. “Why is it that every governor is trying to figure out how to get swabs? Or how to get reagents? Or which tests do I use?”

Penny Pritzker, former U.S. Commerce Secretary under the Obama administration, appears on “Influencers with Andy Serwer.”

“Why isn’t there a clear way to provide contact tracing so the governors can adopt programs as opposed to have to invent them?” adds Pritzker, who in January endorsed the presidential bid of former Vice President Joe Biden.

As of Monday morning, the U.S. had conducted a total of 5.4 million tests, according to the COVID Tracking Project — but one economist estimates the country will need 35 million tests per day in order for Americans to get back to work.

This month, at least 16 of the nation’s governors have said they lack adequate testing to reopen their states, the Washington Post reports, including Illinois, where Pritzker’s brother J.B. Pritzker is governor. The states comprise Democratic strongholds like New York and California but also GOP-led states like Iowa and Maryland.

Nevertheless,Trump last Monday dismissed the criticism of coronavirus testing capacity as “mostly partisan” and “incorrect.”

‘A Marshall Plan for testing’

Governors on the East and West coasts, as well as in the midwest, have formed regional accords to collectively determine how they will reopen their economies. Testing capacity will play a central role in how they move forward, Pritzker said.

“You see regions where they’re going to come up with rules of what can function, what can be open,” Pritzker says.

“But the fundamentals that have to be in place. Are really you’ve got to have testing and we really need like a Marshall Plan for testing,” she added, referring to the massive U.S. program to help Western Europe after World War II.

Pritzker, a billionaire heir to the Hyatt Hotel fortune and sister of Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, spoke to Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer in an episode of “Yahoo Finance Presents.”

After serving as national finance chair for Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, she took a seat on Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness and his Economic Recovery Advisory Board. From 2013 to 2017, she held the position of Secretary of Commerce. Currently, she sits on the Microsoft (MSFT) board and is chairman of PSP Partners, a private investment firm.

US President Barack Obama speaks following a meeting with his economic team in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on March 4, 2016 in Washington, DC. At right is Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker. / AFP / Mandel Ngan (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Public health officials have faulted the Trump administration for a failure to ramp up testing in the early days of the coronavirus outbreak.

Technical delays, strict regulatory procedure around CDC-developed tests, and an initial lack of urgency from Trump contributed to the slow rollout of coronavirus tests in the U.S., the New Yorker reported last month. Observers have also pointed to challenges in gaining access to samples of the virus as well as a dearth of equipment.

Pritzker credited Congress and the Federal Reserve for financial stimulus that has helped soften the economic blow of the crisis for everyday Americans, but said states continue to lack sufficient funds as most remain shut down.

“I applaud the action of the Fed and of Congress, because they recognized and they’ve learned from history, you need to work fast, and you need to go deep in order to try to smooth the situation for the American people,” she says.

“No state has enough excess budget to be able to solve for this forced shutdown that we have to do in order to protect our population,” she says. “So the federal government has a massive role to play.”

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