Democrats demand White House answers for COVID test shortages

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Democrats demand White House answers for COVID test shortages

A group of Democratic senators say they have “grave concerns” about the Biden administration’s response to COVID-19 and have asked the White House’s pandemic point man to explain ongoing test shortages and related issues.

In a Thursday letter to COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeffrey Zients, Sens. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) asked point-blank “why the Administration failed to take more significant steps earlier to increase access to at-home tests.”

“Across America, there are lines for city blocks long to get COVID testing, signs in pharmacies saying they are out of rapid tests, hospitals operating under crisis standards of care, health care staff and first responders falling ill, and millions of people who are exhausted from the toll this pandemic has had,” the lawmakers wrote. 

“While we fully recognize the productive steps this Administration has taken to encourage vaccination, ensure ready access to vaccines, and increase options to treat the virus, far too many measures – such as increasing access to home-based testing – have been reactive, rather than proactive,” they added.

The White House reportedly rejected an expert plan in October that called for the production of 732 million tests per month in a “Testing Surge To Prevent [a] Holiday COVID surge” and for “Every American Household to Receive Free Rapid Tests for the Holidays/New Year.”

US President Joe Biden speaks about how the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will rebuild the US and the progress made since he signed the bill into law, in the South Court Auditorium of the White House in Washington DC.
President Biden’s administration has come under fire for its response to the lack of COVID-19 tests.
Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images

Biden denied to The Post last month that his staff rejected the plan.

The president announced on Dec. 21 that the federal government would provide 500 million at-home rapid tests to Americans free of charge as the country battled a rapid increase in COVID cases during the holidays due to the spread of the Omicron variant.

Earlier this week, the president vowed his administration would procure another 500 million tests.

That wasn’t good enough for the lawmakers, who told Zients that “[t]his Administration either knew or should have known that testing shortages were occurring across the country over the past several months, and with the full expectation that the virus would likely mutate into a new variant steps to increase testing access should have happened before the current wave hit, not several weeks into the surge, with resources still not available until later this month or beyond.”

On Friday, the White House issued a statement announcing that Americans could finally begin ordering tests through a government website on Jan. 19 — but would have to wait another 7-12 days before actually receiving them.

In addition to the lack of tests, the senators also said they wanted Zients to “address the steps you have taken to prepare the country for the increase in cases” as well as “how you plan to mitigate the impact of the current and future variants moving forward.” 

President Biden's Covid Response Team co-ordinator, Jeff Zients, in his West Wing office, in Washington, DC.
The Democratic senators wrote the letter to COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeffrey Zients expressing their concerns.
Photo by Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The letter concluded by calling on Zients to explain what the administration did to boost testing capacity after the discovery of Omicron in late November, what is being done “to shorten wait times and improve testing availability” at federally-run sites stood up by the White House last month, and how the “gap in public health data” due to the increase in at-home testing is being addressed.

Biden has repeatedly declined to answer questions from White House reporters pertaining to the pandemic, with the latest example taking place Thursday. 

“Mr. President, do you have a message for vaccinated Americans who are wondering why they should continue to restrict their activities given your health officials say most Americans will get COVID at some point?” a reporter asked while being hustled out of an event.

“Folks, we’ll talk about that later,” Biden replied. “Come on, let’s go.”

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