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.