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HHS Asst. Sec.: ‘Senator Murray Just Doesn’t Understand the Details' of Our Coronavirus Testing Plan

By Craig Bannister | April 28, 2020 | 1:19pm EDT
HHS Asst. Sec. Admiral Brett Giroir
(Screenshot)

“I guess Senator Murray just doesn’t understand the details of what we’re doing on a state-by-state basis” to ramp up coronavirus testing, Health and Human Services (HHS) Assistant Sec. Admiral Brett Giroir said Tuesday, responding to the criticism and claims of the Democrat congresswoman from Washington State.

Appearing on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Giroir was asked by Host George Stephanopoulos about Sen. Murray’s claim that the HHS coronavirus state testing plan lacked specifics, solutions, time-frames or goals:

“Here's what Senator Patty Murray had to say overnight. She says your plan ‘doesn't set specific minimum goals, offer a time frame, identify ways to fix our broken supply chain or offer any details whatsoever on expanding lab capacity or achieving needed manufacturing capacity.’ What is your response to Senator Murray?”

Asst. Sec. Giroir replied that Sen. Murray must not understand the administration’s plan, which does not impose one-size-fits-all requirements, but instead involves working with each individual state according to its unique circumstances and goals:

“Well, my response is the blueprint we did yesterday was meant to outline the roles and responsibilities, as well as the core objectives, of a testing and rapid response program.

“I guess Senator Murray just does not understand the details of what we're doing on a state-by-state basis. Our team has contacted and are working with every single state, D.C., Puerto Rico to define really the specifics of what that state needs according to their state re-opening plan and the two percent really is sort of a minimum floor. There are many states that want to do four percent, six percent, eight percent every month. We have the supply chains figured out. We know what we can supply the states, so we are much more sophisticated. The overall strategy is a strategy. It's not a state-by-state plan. That's what we're doing individually with the states.”

When Stephanopoulos pressed Giroir, saying that Sen. Murray isn’t alone in her demands the administration impose forceful mandates on the nation, Giroir reminded him that those leveling criticism are doing it from the outside looking in, while his perspective is from the inside. He then provided what he called “the ground-truth” experienced by those who are "in the middle of this": that a harsh authoritarian government approach is unnecessary:

“You know, I'm in the middle of this. Everyone who is commenting is really on the periphery of it. Let me tell you the ground-truth.

“The ground-truth is, for most circumstances, the DPA is not necessary because there's maximum production. All the industries are working together on the supply chain related to testing. There will be a DPA action today but it's not one of the forceful DPA actions - it’s a hand-up, it’s an investment in American industry that will greatly expand the testing we need, some of the testing supplies so that, particularly by Fall, when we may have COVID circulating with influenza and need drastically more tests than we have now, we will have the supplies that we need.”

The full transcript of the exchange is presented below:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: “We begin now with the closer look at the critical issue of testing for COVID. So far, the U.S. has completed 5.4 million tests, but experts say that number will have to rise dramatically up to 20 million a day before we can fully open the economy. And yesterday the White House laid out guidelines for states to ramp up testing to two percent of the U.S. population each month.

We're joined now by the official in charge of the White House testing effort, Admiral Brett Giroir. Welcome back to GMA, admiral. Thank you for joining us this morning. There's a strong consensus out there that we're going to need lots of testing to re-open. But, critics are saying the White House guidelines don't go far enough, that you need mandates and a national strategy, more funding.

Here's what Senator Patty Murray had to say overnight. She says your plan ‘doesn't set specific minimum goals, offer a time frame, identify ways to fix our broken supply chain or offer any details whatsoever on expanding lab capacity or achieving needed manufacturing capacity.’ What is your response to Senator Murray?

BRETT GIROIR: Well, my response is the blueprint we did yesterday was meant to outline the roles and responsibilities, as well as the core objectives, of a testing and rapid response program.

I guess Senator Murray just does not understand the details of what we're doing on a state-by-state basis. Our team has contacted and are working with every single state, D.C., Puerto Rico to define really the specifics of what that state needs according to their state re-opening plan and the two percent really is sort of a minimum floor. There are many states that want to do four percent, six percent, eight percent every month. We have the supply chains figured out. We know what we can supply the states, so we are much more sophisticated. The overall strategy is a strategy. It's not a state-by-state plan. That's what we're doing individually with the states.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But, it's not just Senator Murray who has had this kind of criticism. Even one of the president’s strongest allies, former Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, said the White House, the president has to order the use of the Defense Production Act (DPA) to fix the supply chain and make sure every state has what it needs.

GIROIR: You know, I'm in the middle of this. Everyone who is commenting is really on the periphery of it. Let me tell you the ground-truth. The ground-truth is, for most circumstances, the DPA is not necessary because there's maximum production. All the industries are working together on the supply chain related to testing. There will be a DPA action today but it's not one of the forceful DPA actions - it’s a hand-up, it’s an investment in American industry that will greatly expand the testing we need, some of the testing supplies so that, particularly by Fall, when we may have COVID circulating with influenza and need drastically more tests than we have now, we will have the supplies that we need. But, the DPA has been used selectively when it's necessary. But, in most regards, regarding certainly regarding testing, it's really unnecessary. But, the hand-up, you will see, will be implemented as necessary.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I guess one of the big questions is: is that hand-up going to be enough? I know you've seen this report from the experts at Harvard who say that we're going to need, to really open the economy to get started, we'll need to be testing five million people a day in June. up to 20 million in July and that the guidelines you've laid out can't get us anywhere near that.

GIROIR: So, we don't believe those estimates are really accurate, nor are they reasonable in our society. What we're talking about, the two percent number, let's just put that in context. Two percent per month is almost double the per capita rate that South Korea has achieved over the last four months accumulated. This is a massive amount of tests and, in many states, we'll be doing four percent, six percent, eight percent according to the state guidelines. 

We know for a fact that we can supply those states with the full supply chain, the swabs, the media, the testing capability to achieve those goals and, remember, particularly in the summer, it's not just about tests, because we can look at syndromes. There is no influenza circulating in the summer, so when someone comes in with an influenza like-illness through the IOI network which is nationwide, we'll have a good idea that person is likely COVID infected and can serve to that area.

So, tests are absolutely important; they're critical. They will be expanded dramatically as we re-open, but it's not the only tool we have in the toolbox.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I know you're also working to dramatically expand the antibody test. Are you satisfied now with the quality of the tests that are going to be out in the states?

GIROIR: So, as we've stated many times, particularly the point of care antibody test could be fraught with inaccuracies. And that is why the National Cancer Institute, along with the FDA and CDC are really running the full panels of these tests against what we believe is a gold standard. You'll be seeing some of those results really soon. Many tests are just not up to par and some seem to be performing very, very well and that's very, very important and it actually took a whole appendix in the blueprint we talked about yesterday about why having a very highly specific test, particularly for an antibody, to talk about immunity is really critically important. So, you'll be seeing those results very soon.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Admiral Giroir, thanks for your time this morning.

GIROIR: You're welcome.

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