WASHINGTON — Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said Sunday that Congress can’t allocate enough aid to offset the toll the coronavirus pandemic has taken on the U.S. economy, a reality that underscores the need for the country to rapidly scale up testing to give workers the peace of mind they need to return to work and jumpstart the economy.
“The only solution is test, trace, isolate, treatments and vaccines,” Alexander said during an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“We have to reopen the economy, we have to do it carefully, we have to let people go back to work and earn a living. And I don’t see us being able to appropriate much more money to help provide a counter to that.”
America’s coronavirus death toll is at more than 79,700 deaths as of Sunday morning, according to NBC News, with more than 1.3 million confirmed cases of the virus across the country.
And new economic data released last week found that the American economy lost 20.5 million jobs in April, leading to a 14.7 percent unemployment rate that’s the country’s highest since the great depression.
Congress passed a $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill in March, which included direct financial aid to Americans, as well as other programs meant to prop up businesses struggling amid stay-at-home orders and financial uncertainty. And the Federal Reserve has cut interest rates and injected money into the economy as well.
Amid the economic turmoil, the White House has begun shifting toward encouraging states to open up the nation’s economy. In turn, many states have begun signaling intent to relax coronavirus-related restrictions in the hope of allowing Americans to move toward a new normal.
America has tested about 300,000 people each day on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, according to the COVID Tracking Project. Both public health and economic experts have called for a massive increase in America’s testing capacity to create the public trust needed to begin to jumpstart economic activity.
“We need to look at some of the countries that have been very successful in quashing this virus down,” Jeffrey Shaman, the director of the Climate and Health Program at Columbia University, said on “Meet the Press.”
He specifically referred to South Korea, Germany, New Zealand and Taiwan.
“These are countries, in particular in the cases of Germany and South Korea, that had enormous outbreaks. They flattened them, they crushed them down, and they did this because they tested so aggressively and they used contact tracing and they were able to quarantine people who were becoming infectious before they actually spread to other people,” Shaman added.
Alexander praised America’s testing as “very impressive,” noting that the country has tested more than 8 million people and has a higher rate of per-capita testing than many other countries.
But he admitted that the current testing is “not enough,” echoing White House Task Force Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx’s comments on last month’s “Meet the Press” that America needs a “breakthrough” on testing.
“It's enough to do what we need to do today to reopen,” he said.
“It's not enough, for example, when 35,000 kids and faculty show up on the University of Tennessee campus in August. That's why we need what Dr. Birx called, what Francis Collins is working on, a breakthrough.”
“If you take a test and you know that you don't have COVID-19, and you know that everybody around you took a test that same day, you're going to have enough confidence to go back to work and back to school,” he said.