Coronavirus: 7 Republican, Democrat governors unite to forge national testing plan

Medics transfer a patient on a stretcher from an ambulance outside of Emergency at Coral Gables Hospital near Miami, on July 30, 2020.
Medics transfer a patient on a stretcher from an ambulance outside of Emergency at Coral Gables Hospital near Miami, on July 30, 2020.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON • With coronavirus cases in the United States nearing five million and over 160,000 deaths so far, governors from both Republican and Democratic parties, who are frustrated by the lack of federal leadership, are trying to forge a national coronavirus testing programme without the White House's help.

The seven-state effort to buy more than three million coronavirus antigen tests was born of need and disappointment. It was midwifed by the Rockefeller Foundation and Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, and skirts President Donald Trump's administration, even if many governors would prefer an approach coordinated by the federal government.

The foundation will help marshal funds, and the governors - four Democrats and three Republicans - aim to recruit more states, assuring test-makers of the biggest possible market and filling a vacuum left by federal inaction.

The group comprises Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio, North Carolina and Virginia, and the states are already in discussions with test manufacturers Becton, Dickinson & Co and Quidel Corp. The tests can deliver results in 15 to 20 minutes.

"The states are leading America's national response to Covid-19," said Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, a Democrat. "We are bringing together this bipartisan, multi-state coalition to combine our purchasing power and get rapid-testing supplies to our communities as quickly as possible."

The agreement is a significant reproach to the administration, which has failed to formulate a coherent national plan to fight the disease that has, at times, left states competing for supplies.

It brings together politicians of different parties, despite Mr Trump's effort to sow dissent before the November election. And it comes in partnership with an elite charity that is a bastion of the American establishment.

"This appears to be a joint rebuke based in joint exasperation," said Professor Dan Schnur, who teaches political communications at the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Southern California.

Although many states this spring tried to coordinate their approaches to fighting the pandemic and reopening their economies, those efforts fell short of pooling resources to buy badly needed tests.

 
 

"Shared communications and coordination is one thing, but a joint financial commitment in the absence of federal action is something else," Prof Schnur said.

Mr Hogan, the Republican governor of a blue state and the outgoing chairman of the National Governors Association, has openly criticised Mr Trump's handling of the pandemic.

But at an evening news briefing, Mr Trump said his administration has increased the scale and quality of testing. He said officials have been working with governors and that there have been "no complaints from any of them".

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 06, 2020, with the headline '7 Republican, Democrat governors unite to forge national testing plan'. Print Edition | Subscribe