Whitmer warns Congress more federal help is needed to avoid COVID-19 resurgence

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gives an update on COVID-19 | Gov. Whitmer office photo

WASHINGTON — The federal government needs to assist states with a national strategy for distribution of COVID-19 tests and medical equipment or risk a second surge of the disease, Democratic governors told lawmakers Tuesday on Capitol Hill.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Colorado Gov. Jared Polis asked Congress for more federal help as states try to track and monitor the disease and brace for its confluence with the flu and cold season next fall.

“I am absolutely worried about flu season, when it comes to supplies and testing and the ability to meet our needs,” Whitmer told the panel.

“We don’t want a resurgence of COVID with the flu,” Polis said.

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Michigan has had more than 57,000 cases and more than 5,500 deaths, as of Tuesday.

States are beginning to ease some restrictions, but each jurisdiction is developing its own metrics for when to reopen and how to keep residents safe. On Monday, Whitmer lifted Michigan’s stay-home order and will be allowing retailers, restaurants, libraries and other entities to reopen.

“Because there has not been a national strategy, each of us has developed our own re-engagement strategies,” Whitmer told lawmakers on the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The Michigan governor said more federal coordination is needed to help states get all the equipment they need for testing and tracing the disease — especially relatively simple items like swabs, masks and gloves.

“We have paid a price for the fact that these things have not been produced in the United States, and I would just submit that a national strategy to ensure that we have these test kits is the most important thing that the federal government really needs to take the reins on,“ Whitmer said. “Absent a national policy, we have created a shortage and driven up the price.”

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‘We cannot repeat the chaos’ 

House Democrats included requirements for a national testing strategy as part of a sweeping pandemic response bill they approved last month. Senate Republicans have called the ambitious $3 trillion bill “dead on arrival” in the Senate.

“Let’s be clear, the states and the governors on the front lines of this crisis are working around the clock and doing everything they can to address shortages and help their communities, but there is only so much any one governor can do in this global crisis,” said U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), chair of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee that convened the hearing.

“Without clear, effective leadership from the federal government as more communities reopen this summer and as we head into the fall, we cannot repeat the chaos we saw this spring, with states scrambling for tests and competing with one another for critical supplies.”

While Whitmer has argued for more flexibility in spending from the federal government, U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Tipton) blamed the governor for Michigan’s budget woes, arguing that other states have reopened faster.

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Whitmer said help from the federal government was uneven.

“Uncertainty about supplies and the federal government’s role in directing their allocation has really undermined our ability to coordinate our testing strategy,” said Whitmer. “Testing supplies were limited and information was scarce and the federal government’s role was narrow.”

Whitmer created a global procurement office as part of her emergency operations center, but had to compete against other states and the federal government.

“When we are procuring these on our own, we necessarily start bidding against one another, and guess who tops all of our contracting ability, it’s the federal government,” she said. “So when Michigan was heating up and exponential growth was happening here, it was the federal government that was where our supplies were getting delayed.”

Advance Editor Susan J. Demas contributed to this story.