LEXINGTON, Ky. – Over the past week, the full weight and force of the American public and private sectors have been unleashed to combat the threat of the COVID-19 strain of Coronavirus. The pharmaceutical and medical device industries, the commercial laboratories, the nonprofit and faith-based organizations, as well as the federal, state and local governments have been taking a whole-of-government, whole-of-nation approach to protect the American people. Here is an update on where we stand on our efforts:
Progress on testing:
According to the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, we will have 1.9 million tests available this week and more than 2,000 labs will be rolling out throughout the week to process COVID-19 tests.
National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Director Dr. Anthony Fauci repeatedly said over the weekend that “within a week we are going to start seeing a real acceleration of testing. I think we are going to see a much different situation than we saw just a few weeks ago.” There are three reasons for this:
1. High volume commercial labs are now online and processing more and more tests every day.
2. Admiral Brett Giroir, Assistant Secretary for Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), has been appointed to coordinate the COVID-19 testing efforts, which will involve a very significant deployment of the Public Health Services Commissioned Corps to assist in testing.
3. The FDA issued emergency approval for a new commercial COVID-19 high volume test by Roche that will help greatly expand testing nationwide. This is the third Emergency Use Authorization granted for a diagnostic test during the COVID-19 outbreak, and emergency approval is expected to come very shortly for another commercial test that will expand testing capacity even more. As public health experts have noted, this emergency approval will help significantly accelerate testing.
This is not to say that we do not have more work to do. I have been working overtime to expedite FDA validation and approval for more and faster respiratory panel testing and urging the federal Coronavirus Task Force to get the faster tests in the hospitals. If realized, this will enable hospitals to get faster tests and supplement commercial and state labs which can process more tests but at a slower pace. Additionally, this will also allow hospitals to conserve and maximize the usage of personal protective equipment (PPE).
Overall, Americans should be proud of the amazing, patriotic and hard-working people in both the public and private sectors who are working this problem.
My actions to date:
• Voted for a bipartisan $8.3 billion emergency supplemental appropriations bill on March 4 to provide additional funds to the CDC and other federal agencies for vaccine development, expansion of diagnostic testing, ant-viral therapies and treatments for those infected with the COVID-19 virus.
• Attended regular briefings on COVID-19 developments with Administration officials leading the response including Vice President Mike Pence, Seema Verma, Administrator, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), Dr. Steve Redd, Senior Advisor for COVID-19 Response, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, National Institutes of Health (NIH), Dr. Stephen Hahn, Commissioner, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and Robert Kadlec, Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
• Sent a letter dated March 10 to Treasury Secretary Mnuchin in my capacity as Chairman of the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) to request an update on the impact of the COVID-19 disease on international and domestic financial stability.
• Conducted a telephone townhall meeting on March 11 to update Sixth District constituents on COVID-19 with Dr. Charles Kennedy, hospital epidemiologist at Saint Joseph Hospital.
• Coordinated a request to the HHS Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response to give Kentucky access to the Strategic National Stockpile, the nation’s largest supply of potentially life-saving pharmaceuticals and medical supplies, including masks and personal protective equipment, for use in a public health emergency. The request was received on March 13 and was determined to “meet requirements.” Kentucky’s order was processed and HHS informed our office that two trucks left the warehouse at 12:15 p.m. EDT March 16 to re-supply Kentucky.
• Regular communications with the Vice President’s office and the FDA on behalf of Lexington epidemiologists about a potentially promising diagnostic test for COVID-19 with a more rapid turnaround than the Roche test approved last week, and about the need for faster turnaround by getting the faster tests from Roche and others in the hospitals themselves, in addition to in the commercial labs.
• Voted for the bipartisan Families First Coronavirus Response Act on March 14 to deliver on the President’s promise to ensure free COVID-19 testing for all Americans, provide temporary paid sick and family medical leave related to COVID-19 or because of school closures, and reimburse small businesses with less than 500 employees dollar for dollar for Coronavirus-related sick and family leave costs through payroll tax credits and Treasury advances to small businesses with insufficient cash deposited with the IRS.
• Hosted conference call and fielded multiple follow-up calls with hospital administrators and health care providers to give an update on federal response efforts to COVID-19 and get feedback on the needs of Sixth District health care professionals to raise/coordinate these concerns at the federal level.
• Conducted multiple conference calls with small businesses across the Sixth District to provide an update on the federal economic response to date and solicit feedback and ideas on how the federal government can mitigate economic dislocation and business interruption during this time.
• Accepted an invitation by Minority Whip Steve Scalise to join small business task force to advise Treasury Secretary Mnuchin on additional measures needed to assist small businesses through this economic challenge.
• Coordinated last week with the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) to request for Kentucky a disaster designation to enable small businesses access the SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan program to provide low interest loans for working capital to small businesses suffering substantial economic injury as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As Dr. Fauci has stated many times during press conferences at the White House, the COVID-19 outbreak is expected to get worse before we overcome it. However, I believe we are taking the appropriate steps needed to protect our communities. As such, out of an abundance of caution, my office will handle constituent casework via phone or email until further notice.
Constituents in Kentucky’s Sixth District who need any assistance navigating these new changes or who need help with any federal agency issue can call my District office at 859-219-1366 to initiate casework or to check on the status of an existing case.
Furthermore, I will continue to be in contact with state and local officials throughout the coming weeks to provide them with all the resources necessary to beat back this virus and deliver a full return to ordinary American life as quickly as possible.