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Governors release new plan for reopening — and suggest few states are ready

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Rachel Roubein

A new road map from the nation’s governors for reopening the economy urges a cautious approach, saying the White House must dramatically ramp up testing and help states bolster other public health measures before social distancing can be safely pulled back.

The plan from the National Governors Association and state health officials suggests a wide-scale reopening of the country isn’t imminent, even as President Donald Trump roots on Southern states that are dialing down restrictions despite warnings from health experts.

The 10-point governors’ road map insists there aren’t enough coronavirus tests and said the federal government needs to better distribute testing supplies to the states. The report echoes concerns from health experts that moving too quickly could reignite the spread of the virus in communities and undo the health benefits gained by weeks of social distancing.

“Opening prematurely — or opening without the tools in place to rapidly identify and stop the spread of the virus — could send states back into crisis mode, push health systems past capacity and force states back into strict social distancing measures,” reads the report from the NGA and the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.

The report comes amid broader debate over whether states like Georgia and Tennessee, which are lifting prohibitions, are moving too quickly, while protests cheered on by conservative groups and Trump himself are playing out in capitals across the country. Trump this morning congratulated the mostly Republican-led states moving to reopen their economies, even as coronavirus hot spots remain within their borders.

The states’ plan largely tracks with the phased approach for reopening Trump outlined last week, but said states should proceed carefully without broader testing. Despite Trump’s insistence that states have the testing they need to reopen, the states’ report said “testing capacity remains inadequate.” Several governors are still complaining of shortages of swabs and reagents needed to conduct wide scale testing.

The plan, which tacitly criticizes the Trump administration for poorly distributing supplies, estimates that the nation will need to be able to test anywhere from 750,000 to tens of millions per week, though states are still rationing testing and struggling with supply shortages.

Trump in recent weeks has pushed responsibility for testing onto the states, but the new road map said the federal government should “rapidly build” up testing capacity and coordinate distribution of supplies. A new coronavirus package moving through Congress this week includes $25 billion for testing, while calling for testing strategies from the Trump administration and the states.

Maryland’s Republican governor, Larry Hogan, who chairs the NGA, has criticized the administration for not doing enough to help states increase testing. Hogan’s administration over the weekend secured thousands of test kits from South Korea, prompting criticism from Trump for turning to a foreign government for help.

The plan recommends a “a significant increase” in workers who help identify those infected with the coronavirus and try to convince their contacts to self-quarantine to guard against an explosion in cases. The country currently only has a fraction of the workers needed to trace the virus. Louisiana, for example, hopes to expand its workforce for contact tracing from 70 to 700, said state health Secretary Courtney Phillips. Many of the new volunteers states are bringing on will receive just a few hours of training for work that has little margin for error.

The governors’ report also says states should have plans for quarantining the contacts of people who have become infected at places like hotels, dorms or military barracks. They should also have a robust public health infrastructure in place as they reopen, including a strong surveillance system for detecting Covid-19, develop metrics to assess the hospital’s capacity to treat both coronavirus and non-infected patients and protect at-risk populations. Those are similar to measures Trump’s reopening plan but includes more detail.

“These steps require the full participation of the federal government, state health agencies, other state agencies, local governments, the private sector, and the public,” the report said.

This article was originally published by Politico on April 22, 2020. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Rachel Roubein is a health care reporter for POLITICO Pro, focusing on doctors and hospitals. She previously covered health policy and politics at The Hill and National Journal, where she reported extensively on Obamacare and the opioid epidemic. She got her start in journalism reporting for Carroll County Times, a local newspaper in Maryland, and covered everything from the rise of heroin in the county to state efforts to start a medical marijuana program, from town budgets to crime. She studied journalism at the University of Maryland, and grew up in Oklahoma — and also Louisiana, Texas and Kentucky.

Dan Goldberg

About the Author: Dan Goldberg is a health care reporter for POLITICO Pro covering health care politics and policy in the states. He previously covered New York State health care for POLITICO New York. Before joining POLITICO New York, Dan was the health care reporter for the New Jersey Star-Ledger. Dan holds a bachelor’s degree from Binghamton University, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Columbia University.

Brianna Ehley

About the Author: Brianna Ehley is a reporter on POLITICO Pro’s health care team. She covers federal public health policy, as well as addiction and mental health issues. Prior to joining POLITICO, she wrote about health care, economic policy and government agencies for The Fiscal Times and blogged about the DC media scene for Fishbowl DC. She started her career at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch covering Illinois state government while earning her master’s degree in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois.


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