There is no way forward without dramatically more testing. Our children can’t go back to school, our neighbors can’t go back to work, and we can’t safely reopen society without accurate and widespread testing. Sadly, we’re not just far from having the testing capacity we need to be ready; the White House is actively standing in the way of more testing for the people of Burlington and Ocean Counties.
Earlier this week, in a call with FEMA leadership, I asked about the status of my request for a new federally backed testing site in South Jersey. The answer I got was alarming; not only was my request denied, but I was told that there was a directive from the White House to categorically reject all requests to stand up any more federally backed test sites in the entire country.
New Jersey stands at the heart of the coronavirus crisis. To our north, we have New York, the biggest hot spot in the world. And just outside my district in South Jersey, we have Philadelphia, a city the White House has said could very well be the next major flashpoint. We have seen the impact that FEMA-supported test sites have made in North Jersey, and given the White House’s dire warning about the Philadelphia metro region, I had hoped that FEMA would approve a third testing site so we can prepare for a possible surge.
The recklessness of this decision by the White House will have a direct and devastating impact on South Jersey and the Shore and the Philadelphia metro region. Robust testing would help us stay ahead of the rise of cases in our area by tracing and isolating its spread, it would help ensure our hospitals don’t see the same strain we’ve seen in so many other parts of the country, and it would buy us the critical time needed to create, manufacture, and distribute a vaccine.
Months into our fight against this virus, we are still fighting blindly with one hand tied behind our backs.
The White House has argued that it’s up to the states to handle the testing, but this makes no sense. There is no reason to have Burlington and Ocean Counties in New Jersey compete against every other county and state in the country for a share of test kits and personal protective equipment. Our county-run testing sites have been forced to move mountains and pay exorbitantly for the 350 tests they’re currently capable of administering each day. This is unsustainable and unacceptable. Our counties don’t have the ability to enact the Defense Production Act to compel the massive manufacturing effort necessary to create the hundreds of millions more tests that are necessary. Only the president has that authority.
Months into our fight against this virus, we are still fighting blindly with one hand tied behind our backs. Experts say we need testing in the millions per day. In a phone call last week, Anthony Fauci told members of Congress that our country was at around 150,000 tests a day. This needs to change. We need the White House to institute a national testing program that will generate millions of tests, distribute these tests to a connected network of test sites across our country in every state, and standardize the processing of results immediately.
We’ve seen that this virus knows no borders; our response shouldn’t either. The regional and local approach that our governors and county officials have been forced to take isn’t enough. We need to fix our approach to testing, starting with a third FEMA-supported site in South Jersey; it’s the only way to truly solve this crisis and move our region forward.
Andy Kim is the U.S. representative from New Jersey’s 3rd Congressional District.