The first step to tackling any problem is seeing it, and that is especially true with COVID-19 — widespread testing is key to seeing the bigger picture in the fight against this virus. Our country’s wellbeing — medically and financially — relies on our ability to see where the illness is and is not; where it is spreading and where it is declining. That, in turn, depends on our ability to ramp up testing capacity.
Rapid testing for COVID-19 and further research into the benefits, applications, and development of antibody testing will help show which Coloradans have been exposed to COVID-19 and the percentage of our population that has already recovered. This will better inform local schools, businesses, and governments as they make their own determinations about the path forward. It will help provide peace of mind for Coloradans as they start to visit their families, reschedule doctor’s appointments for routine preventive services, and return to their jobs. It will also help state and local health departments decide what type of other response measures are necessary.
I recently wrote about the steps we can take now to build a “path back to prosperity” — testing tells us how to safely develop that strategy and move forward as a nation. Without effective, widespread testing and a corresponding strategy that leverages and improves public health infrastructure to support monitoring, we cannot have a real-time response to the virus. Rapid testing and the ability for public health departments to inform individuals with positive cases quickly so they can take appropriate action and prevent further spread is critical to making sure that our entire economy is not forced to shut down in the future.
I’d like our country to get to the place where COVID-19 testing is available at the local corner store. Every doctor’s office should have the capability to screen patients for COVID-19. Families at home should be able to order tests online. Every business should have COVID-19 tests in its first aid kits and be able to offer on-site testing for employees. Every student should be able to go to the nurse’s office and get a test.
In order to get there, we need to heavily invest in medical research, manufacturing, and the supply chains to support testing capacity.
Congress recently approved $25 billion to support testing and included dedicated funding for states and tribes as well as funding dollars to support scientists as they rapidly develop and produce new testing technologies and work to get them to the market as quickly as possible. The CARES Act provided Colorado directly with $10 million to enhance our testing capacity, improve our ability to identify and trace cases, and implement containment measures, and with the recent funding increase we can expect more testing dollars for our state. That package also included $1 billion for the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority to support the research, development, and manufacturing of tests and $1.8 billion to the National Institutes of Health to investigate new, innovative testing technologies and manufacturing proposals.
But we need more testing now. To date, state officials have reported that the highest daily test rate has been just over 5,300 people in one day. My approach through this entire pandemic has been “all hands on deck.” When the governor calls me and says our state needs more tests, masks, or equipment, we get to work to assist finding it. Working together with the governor, leaders at the federal level, and our allies abroad, we have been able to secure hundreds of thousands of masks and tests for our state, and we are working around the clock for more.
Whether it’s through relationships I have built as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asia or working with healthcare providers and manufacturers in Colorado, I will continue fighting every day to increase our testing capacity. Recently I was able to connect the governor to suppliers in South Korea and help facilitate the purchase and delivery of more than 100,000 COVID-19 tests, and I’m working every day to find more.
This pandemic has brought an unprecedented level of uncertainty and unease to our country as we try to determine its true extent and our safest path to reopening. We’re fighting an invisible enemy, but testing lets us see it and, with the guidance of our public health experts, find a way to move toward a brighter future.
Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, represents Colorado in the U.S. Senate.