Earlier this month, I joined the White House task force on the reopening of the American economy in the aftermath of this public health emergency. During our first call, I was the first to speak directly to the president. I told him that if he wants to safely reopen our economy, without unnecessarily risking American lives, he needs to give all of our states dramatically more tests.

As someone with a background in science and engineering, I know that to get this right we have to use the best available public health data and scientific expertise as our guide. I’ll also be the first to say that we do need plans for how to responsibly move forward in reopening our economy. I completely agree with so many right now who are worried about our small businesses and how hardworking Americans will be able to pay the rent as this continues. But the stubborn fact remains that the first step in any plan must be to scale up a much more comprehensive nationwide testing infrastructure to track, trace and effectively respond to the spread of the virus.

We already know exactly what we need to do based on valuable lessons from other nations such as South Korea and Germany — and also states like New Mexico, where we acted early and aggressively to ramp up testing.

As a smaller, rural state, we knew that we needed to be out in front of any potential outbreaks before our hospitals and health care infrastructure were overwhelmed. So we moved quickly to make it as easy as possible for people to get tested by setting up sites in all of our counties.

New Mexico was able to expand our testing faster than most other states because we took an all-of-the-above approach. We didn’t settle on acquiring equipment or kits for just one type of test. We established new supply chains and fought for waivers to make it easier to obtain testing materials and equipment. We also empowered our national laboratories to partner with our state’s Department of Health in processing test results.

Because we proactively expanded our testing apparatus, New Mexico became one of the first states to increase our testing criteria to asymptomatic people and those living in congregant living facilities like nursing homes. We’ve also been able to provide tests to residents in smaller, rural and tribal communities who have seen outbreaks that might have slipped under the radar if we were only testing in urban hot spots. Our state also just joined a federal pilot project to improve and expand contact tracing to better isolate people who test positive for the virus and contain outbreaks.

What we’re doing in New Mexico needs to become our national strategy. This will require billions of dollars of targeted investment in manufacturing supplies and processing equipment. We also need the federal government to finally step up to its full role as a facilitator.

State and local governments shouldn’t be competing against each other in an open market for lifesaving supplies like test kits and processing machines. We need a coordinated, nationwide effort to deploy all the materials necessary to provide easily available testing in every single community in every corner of our country.

Until researchers develop scientifically validated therapies and vaccines, testing is the only way we can provide businesses and consumers with the certainty and confidence to reopen. Simply put, we aren’t there yet. In most parts of America, even those experiencing symptoms related to COVID-19 are struggling to access tests.

That is wholly unacceptable and poses real risk to each of our lives. We urgently need to start treating the establishment of a comprehensive testing infrastructure like the critical national security mission it is.

Many Americans won’t go back to work until they know their children’s teachers or their grandparent’s caretakers are safe from this disease. None of us will feel safe going about our daily lives until we know that all of our restaurant and retail workers — not just our celebrities and sports stars — have been tested.

We are all eager for this nightmare to end. So let’s put in place the testing infrastructure to make that happen. Any business owner will tell you that we can’t wait another day.

U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich represents New Mexico in the Senate. He is a Democrat.

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(8) comments

darlene dobey

Quit pushing this false narrative. There are approximately 2,096,829 people in New Mexico according to the 2019 census.gov website. We have 2,823 cases of CoVID19 as of today. That mean .998654 percent of the population are not infected. Why are we quarantining the healthy? If the fatality rate as of today is 104, that means .99995 percent of us are Alive and well. The science shows that the numbers used to model this pandemic were not reliable. Now we have actual numbers to calculate with not just theoretical information. Stop with the constitutional violations of our rights, and open this state up for business. There will never be zero cases, and they will never test everyone in the state, so quit conducting yourselves like that is your great solution. And on another note: When I am considered an essential worker that has to work from my home, and the unemployed make more money than I do by working, with the bonus $600.00 per week added to their piggy banks on the backs of the working folks, How on earth do you justify what you are doing to the economy and to our state?

Maggie Gunter

An excellent op ed. I totally agree that we need to massively increase testing, but have several questions concerning more specifics for Senator Heinrich. 1. Could you provide more detail about the testing apparatus strategy your team has in place? 2. Does your strategy include testing everyone whether they have symptoms or not? 3. What types of testing are you doing? Diagnostic and/or antibody testing? I would really appreciate this additional information. Thank you! Maggie Gunter

Bob Pohlman

Senator Heinrich praises New Mexico's success at testing and states that testing is key to reopening our economy and social structure, but he doesn't say whether we should start loosening restrictions. So, should we open or do we need more testing? And how much testing is enough? I could be tested today, come out clear, and then be infected tomorrow. So?

The Senator expresses sympathy for the unemployed but doesn't appear willing to stick his neck out. Perhaps a reporter for the New Mexican might ask him some tough questions?

Let's hear some straight talk, Senator

Vickie Ortega

There is no question that testing is needed on a larger scale (very much larger) - ALL our politicians should be working on this. I'd like to add that I read a story a couple of days ago about all the buildings that are closed due to COVID19 such as gyms, large stores, etc., the article said that there is concern for other health problems due to these buildings being closed for so long that the water can possibly become stagnant and when people are allowed in again they could become sick due to that. This is another thing our government needs to look into and advise the public on.

Matt Ponteri

This administration needs to be held accountable for it's actions, especially D.J. Trump, M. McConnell, Jared Kushner, and several other high ranking GOP and cabinet members. I have always stood behind our president, even if they were republican, because that's what we do, whether you agree with the politics or not. But this time, I can not, have not since day one, and never will. Trump should have been removed from office before the coronavirus ever arrived, but for McConnell's backwater dealing to ensure trump would breeze over the impeachment process, and the spineless puppets who hold GOP seats in the senate, he would be gone, and the virus would have been handled much differently. Lives would have been lost, but i don't believe to the extent of loss to date, and most likely no shut down of any kind would have been needed. the entirety of the disaster we are having to deal with now lays at the feet of trump and mcconnell. i personally feel that from here on out, we need legislation or an amendment to the constitution that enables us to remove a president who is responsible for the death(s) of citizens of the United States in circumstances other than a war authorized by congress. Up until trump, we never even imagined we'd need such a thing, presidents are sworn to protect the citizens of this country, trump has broken that oath every which way he can, and stomped on it to boot. Why we need to wait for an election to remove him is about as insane as he is, and just gives him the chance to continue his path of death, with no recourse or remorse. I recall every president back to Jimmy Carter being able to pull the country together, no matter the party, when a national tragedy happened, but not trump. he's here to cause as much destruction as possible, and has a personal attorney, ag barr, backing him up. i believe this is about as close as we can get to the line of our democracy without stepping another inch and watch it crumble into a banana republic, with old king criminally insane trump at the wheel. our constitution doesn't deal with presidents like trump, and it needs to. i don't blame our founding fathers, how could they ever imagine a president who hates it's citizens, doesn't care of they live or die, steals from the treasury every which way he can, and divides us at every chance, and last but not least, suggests injecting ourselves with Lysol to scrub the virus from our lungs (he doesn't actually suggest we do this, but this thought should have never left his two marbles upstairs, for we know there are folks just waiting to give this a try, and sure enough, they have). Every decision trump has made concerning this pandemic was the wrong decision, how many times should we believe he's just making mistakes, and not purposely out to hurt/kill as many as possible. i'm sure he'd love to see the press disappear, the same for democrats, and minority's, and immigrants, and the long list of people he despises (which seems to be anything non white and poor). he needs to be stopped, and unfortunately, we have to wait for an election, which at this point is just nuts. here we sit, watching him drag his feet, and killing more of us, with no recourse. we can never let this happen again, no matter what party the president who fails us this way is part of, we need a way to rectify the situation when the situation is killing us off, that circumstance is just way over the line of what they should be able to continue to do. we'll never see the testing that needs to be done from this administration, unless their hand is forced, and i mean with a mean pair of vice grips.

Ken Rawie

I agree with Senator Heinrich, especially on the need to test asymptomatic residents and staff of nursing homes, assisted living and independent living facilities. All residents and staff should be periodically tested, whether or not they show COVID-19 symptoms, since so often one known case means there are others not yet identified.

pete Stubben

with science and engineering under his belt, the good Senator never offers a single suggestion (other than the latest platitude --- testing, testing, testing). how about, (a) getting NM Hospitals open again; (b) how about joining forces or networking

with the state's pharmacies to expedite testing; (c) how about a word on the crisis that may be reaching into the depths of the four corners region of NM. stay safe, be well...PJS

Dotty Beatty

Senator Heinrich,

I’m thankful that you’re on the White House task force on the reopening of the American economy. Please continue to speak up for the procedures and equipment that will allow this to safely occur. Testing is critical and thank you for stressing it’s importance. Keep up the good work!

Dorothy Beatty

Welcome to the discussion.

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