MURPHY PRESSES ADMINISTRATION WITNESSES ON CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), on Tuesday, during a U.S. Senate Committee hearing on Health, Education Labor & Pensions, questioned Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Deputy Director Dr. Anne Schuchat and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Stephan Hahn on the emerging threat of coronavirus and what officials are doing in response.

On having to correct the president’s record, Murphy said: “I do think it's worth saying that it is pretty extraordinary that we have to have our medical and health professionals counter-message the President of the United States. That they have to spend their time trying to correct the record. We have become normalized to this administration’s, to this president's loose association with the truth but, it becomes particularly dangerous in the middle of a pandemic response.”

Murphy also pressed FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Hahn on setting realistic expectations for coronavirus testing: “The right information is key but also setting realistic expectations is key as well. And your estimate that by the end of the week, they're going to be a million tests out there does sound a little aggressive given the fact that we've only tested three thousand people and New York State is saying their goal is to do a thousand a day. Tell us why you think by Friday of this week, we're going to have a million tests when thus far we've only done three thousand?”

Last week, Murphy questioned U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar on the administration’s coronavirus response and slammed the Trump administration’s recent emergency funding request to protect from the coronavirus epidemic that was sent to Congress. In February, Murphy blasted the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus outbreak. Murphy also signed onto a letter with U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) urging the FDA to ensure the safety and supply of pharmaceuticals, food and medical supplies amid the growing epidemic, and the FDA responded. Murphy also joined other senators in pressing the Trump administration to request emergency funding for coronavirus response.

Full transcript of Murphy’s exchanges with Dr. Anne Schuchat and Dr. Hahn are below.

MURPHY: “Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Thank you so much for your service, thank you for being here today Dr. Fauci. Thank you for your, I think, very clear articulation this morning about a realistic timeline for treatment and vaccine. I do think it's worth saying that it is pretty extraordinary that we have to have our medical and health professionals counter-message the President of the United States. That they have to spend their time trying to correct the record. We have become normalized to this administration’s, to this president's loose association with the truth but, it becomes particularly dangerous in the middle of a pandemic response. Thank you for being here and sharing facts with us today. We all have lots of questions, so we'll all try to get in as many as we can.

“Dr. Hahn, let me follow up on Senator Cassidy's questions about new authorities. One of the things you said in your testimony was that while you feel you've gotten good cooperation from medical device and equipment companies, they're not required to tell you when there's a shortage.

“Senator Rubio and I had sent you a letter, thank you for your response, about trying to catalog the shortage areas. Sounds like it'd be helpful to have a simple, easy legal requirement that they alert you ahead of time when they see a shortage coming?”

DR. HAHN: “Senator, thanks for the question.

“We have sent several legislative proposals as part of the budget. And I think one of the things we've learned from this and other shortages, that it's a very complicated supply chain. The most important thing is redundancy, and also an effort around advanced manufacturing. We have had great cooperation but this is complicated.

“For example, the one drug that is currently in shortage related to this isn't actually related to an API or the final drug form. It's related to a chemical that's before the active pharmaceutical agreement. So the whole supply chain is complicated and more information would be better.”

MURPHY: “Great.

“I think Senator Murray asked you a question that you might not have gotten around to answering and I think it's an important one. The right information is key but also setting realistic expectations is key as well. And your estimate that by the end of the week, they're going to be a million tests out there does sound a little aggressive given the fact that we've only tested three thousand people and New York State is saying their goal is to do a thousand a day.

“Tell us why you think by Friday of this week, we're going to have a million tests when thus far we've only done three thousand?”

HAHN: “Again, want to distinguish between the ability to get the test kits out to the laboratories with the ability of the labs to actually do the tests. But we have been working very closely, Senator, for the last three or four weeks with all manufacturers, private, academic, etc., CDC to build on this platform that CDC has developed. We have been in touch with this particular manufacturer over the last three or four days. We have reiterated this, we've worked with them closely, we know them well. They have estimated that they're going to be able to scale up to deliver twenty five hundred kits, by the end of the week, to providers of the test, doctors.”

MURPHY: “Dr. Schuchat, and others can – well let me ask you, how do we make sure that those are in the right hands?”

DR. SCHUCHAT: “Yeah, thanks.

“CDC has been providing the public health labs with kits and expects by the end of this week that there would be sufficient for 75,000 people to be tested.

“But as you say, not everyone needs a test. And we don't want to go through all our tests on low risk situations and not be able to really address the care and the contacts that are going to be critical.

“So we have guidelines for this kind of thing for influenza about who you know, who needs to seek care, who can stay home and have adapted them for this. We've also broadened our definition of who we think is what we call “person under investigation” that really needs to be tested, not just related to travel to China, but all the other areas. And also to say people with severe respiratory disease who don't have an obvious diagnosis should be tested. And we know that many of the cases in Washington state are detected through that, or because there was an outbreak being investigated.”

MURPHY: “I think this question of where these tests end up and making sure that they're in the right hands is going to be a really important one for us and you to have oversight on.

“Finally, Dr. Schuchat, let me ask you a question about protocols that we're recommending to school districts. One of the biggest disruptions that can happen in a family's life is the closure of a school. And as Senator Murray pointed out, given the fact that many families have two parents working, and that's really difficult for a day, never mind a week. What are the recommendations and protocols that we are telling school districts about what they should do if they have a child who tests positive, a family member, a teacher who tests positive what's the best protocol today?”

SCHUCHAT: “Yeah, thank you.

“We absolutely recommend a child who's ill should stay home whatever they have so that they don't they don't spread. But we have worked closely with local and state public health on this issue. And essentially, decisions about school, school dismissals, school closures or changes in school policies are very much locally driven but, we provide guidance.”

MURPHY: “What is the guidance though?”

SCHUCHAT: “Yeah, so the general principle is to minimize disruption. You have this balance between the earlier you act, the more impact it can have in slowing the spread, and the enormous disruption we see with school closures.

“You may remember in 2009, we saw hundreds of thousands of students sent home in the first couple weeks of the pandemic. As we learned more about the virus and its spread we realized that was too disruptive. The virus was relatively mild, compared to what we were expecting, and we dialed that back to instead shift to staying home when you're sick, perhaps canceling assemblies, changing the patterns of what's done in class but trying to keep classes going, because so many depend on school lunches and other services that are at school. So it's a local decision. If there's too many people sick of course you can't keep going, but really trying to protect the vulnerable and reduce the spread but not disrupt families and all those parents who will be staying home if their kids are home.”

MURPHY: “Thank you Mr. Chairman.”