WASHINGTON - U.S. President Donald Trump says his administration is working on getting more swabs available for coronavirus tests, while Republicans and Democrats in Congress say they are near an agreement on more funding to help small businesses.
Democrats have sharply criticized the president’s response to the crisis, particularly what they say is a shortfall in testing, so that people infected with COVID-19 can be isolated and people they have been in contact with can be identified.
Trump said at the daily White House news conference Sunday an agreement is close with a U.S. company to shift its operations to make 10 million swabs per month, while the government will use its authority to push a second company to boost its productions by more than 20 million swabs per month.
Vice President Mike Pence, who is leading the White House coronavirus task force, told “Fox News Sunday” he believes there are a “sufficient” number of test kits available for “any state” to move into the first phase of new governmental guidelines for slowly returning the country to work and a sense of normalcy.
Some health experts say the United States needs to be doing three times as many tests as it is now.
“The key that opens the door to the economy is testing, testing, testing,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told ABC News’ “This Week.” “We haven’t done it right.
She told Fox News that the United States is “already very late” on testing, and that the president has earned a failing grade on that front.
Two governors also assailed the national government’s lax testing, including Republican Gov. Larry Hogan in the eastern state of Maryland, who is also chair of the National Governors Association.
"The administration I think is trying to ramp up testing, they are doing some things with respect to private labs," Hogan told CNN. "But to try to push this off, to say the governors have plenty of testing and they should just get to work on testing, somehow we aren't doing our jobs, is absolutely false."
Democratic Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia told CNN that claims by Trump and Pence that states have plenty of tests were "just delusional."
Both Pence and Pelosi said the White House and Democratic lawmakers are close to a deal to add another $300 billion to the fund to help thousands of small businesses in the U.S. that have been forced to close their operations in the face of stay-at-home orders issued by 43 of the 50 U.S. state governors to curb the spread of the virus.
Trump and Congress initially approved a $350 billion small business fund, but with thousands of businesses applying for the money, the fund ran out of money last week and the government stopped taking more applications for the cash.
If businesses spend the money on paying workers over the next eight weeks, the government says it will foot the bill for the payments and the businesses will not have to repay the money.
The new funding will also add another $100 billion for hospitals and coronavirus testing, along with $60 billion for a separate small business loan program, officials said.
Some people in several states have taken to the streets to protest their governors’ stay-at-home edicts, which were extensions of Trump’s national guidelines to Americans to maintain social distancing of two meters or more through the end of April.
But Trump, after last week issuing a three-phase plan for governors to follow to reopen their state economies, called on protesters to “liberate” the states of Minnesota, Michigan and Virginia, all states led by Democratic governors who had imposed stay-at-home orders. Protesters, defying social distancing recommendations, have also taken to the streets in states led by Republican governors to protest their restrictions, but Trump did not single them out.
In Texas, the protesters chanted “Fire Fauci,” attacking Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert on the White House task force who has cautioned against reopening the country’s economy too quickly for fear of a renewed surge of the pandemic.
“I think some of the governors have gotten carried away,” Trump said at one of his daily coronavirus news briefings in critiquing their orders.
Pence declined to criticize the street protests, saying the demonstrators wanted their governors to adopt the White House’s “phased framework” for reopening workplaces as quickly as possible.
A total of 22 million workers – more than an eighth of the country’s labor force – have been laid off because of the pandemic. The U.S. death toll now totals more than 39,000, with more than 740,000 confirmed coronavirus cases.