U.S. Senate Democrats seek $30 billion for national coronavirus testing


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Senate Democrats on Wednesday unveiled a $30 billion plan to vastly increase nationwide testing for the novel coronavirus, and called the Trump administration’s efforts on this score seriously insufficient.

“We have to ramp up testing so it can be done on a broader scale,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said in a call with reporters, adding that the nationwide effort should include more rapid tests and contact tracing.

“The administration is at best scattershot and at worst just chaotic when it comes to testing,” Schumer said.

Businesses across the United States have temporarily shuttered or significantly curtailed their operations since March as the coronavirus swept across the nation and governments urged workers to stay at home to help stop its spread.

Many healthcare experts believe it is essential for comprehensive testing to be put in place before the economy can start to open up again.

As the Trump administration mulls taking actions to encourage the reopening of businesses in some regions next month, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, Dick Durbin, said the United States “cannot safely end sheltering-in-place until we have testing everywhere.”

Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow compared the level of testing in the United States with South Korea’s, saying the latter has conducted tests on “40 times more people per million” and has seen far fewer confirmed cases of coronavirus.

The nation’s top infectious disease expert, Anthony Fauci, said in an interview on Tuesday that public health officials needed to be able to test for the virus quickly and to isolate new cases and track down new infections before social distancing and other restrictions could be eased.

Schumer, who has been engaged in renewed talks with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on a new coronavirus response bill, said he hoped the Democratic testing proposal would make it into such a measure.

Republican congressional leaders have argued that the bill — the fourth since last month — should simply add around $250 billion to a recently-approved $349 billion government loan program to help small businesses hurt by the pandemic.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Democrat, in a separate briefing for reporters, said he did not know whether the talks were progressing enough to attempt a vote on passage by the end of this week in the House of Representatives “but that would be optimal if we could.”

Reporting by Richard Cowan, Lisa Lambert and Susan Cornwell; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Sonya Hepinstall