Chairman Clyburn's Opening Remarks at Hearing on “The Urgent Need for a National Plan to Contain the Coronavirus”

Jul 31, 2020
Press Release

Chairman James E. Clyburn

Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis

Hearing on "The Urgent Need for a National Plan to Contain the Coronavirus"

July 31, 2020

 

Opening Statement

(as written)

 

Good morning.  Ladies and gentlemen, our nation is in the midst of a public health catastrophe. 

 

As of this week, more than 150,000 Americans are dead from the coronavirus.  By far the most of any country in the world.

 

And the virus is still spreading rapidly across our country.  It took nearly three months for the United States to go from one infection to one million.  Now, we are at more than 4 million, with at least a million Americans infected in just the last two weeks.  

 

Hospitalizations and deaths are unacceptably high.  Hospitals in some states are at risk of running out of beds, and some hospitals have reported that they may be forced to choose which patients to treat and which to send home to die.

 

On our current course, experts predict another 150,000 Americans could lose their lives from the coronavirus by the end of the year.

 

My goal today is simple:  to hear from our nation’s top public health experts on what steps we need to take to stop the unnecessary deaths of more Americans.

 

To improve our response, we need to identify and correct past failures, especially those that are ongoing. 

 

Regrettably, nearly six months after this virus claimed its first American life, the federal government has still not yet developed and implemented a national strategy to protect the American people.

 

The Administration has failed on testing.  While they were given warnings, including from this Committee, that millions more tests were needed,  at least eleven states—including my home state of South Carolina—are currently conducting less than 30 percent of tests they need to control the virus.

 

With cases surging, states now face severe testing shortages, wait times for results are a week or longer in many places, and some states have been forced to ration scarce tests, limiting them to only the sickest patients. 

 

Without widely available, rapid testing, it is nearly impossible control the spread of the virus and safely reopen our economy. 

 

Yesterday, it was reported that, back in April, the Administration considered implementing a national strategy to coordinate the distribution of test kits and oversee a contact tracing infrastructure, but it decided not to do so because, at the time, the virus was primarily spreading in blue states.

 

Since the earliest days of this crisis, the Trump Administration has also refused to call on Americans to take simple steps to stay safe, like wearing a mask and social distancing.  Instead, the President has downplayed the severity of the crisis—claiming the virus will “disappear,” sidelining government experts who disagree, and seeking to legitimize discredited remedies. 

 

When the public health agencies contradicted the White House’s political message—for example, when the CDC warned that fully reopening schools presented the “Highest Risk” for spreading the coronavirus—the White House pressured the agency to change their advice.

 

The result of these decisions is that the virus has continued to rage out of control, and our nation’s economic misery has continued.

 

And that brings us to today’s hearing.  It is clear that the Administration’s approach of deferring to the states, sidelining the experts, and rushing to re-open has prolonged this crisis and led to thousands of preventable deaths.  In fact, the U.S. response stands out as among the worst of any country in the world.

 

My question is where should we go from here. 

 

Today, I am calling for the Administration to finally give America a comprehensive, national plan that prioritizes science over politics.  That plan should include buying and distributing enough tests and protective gear for every American who needs them.  And it should include clear public health guidance to every American to help curb the spread of the virus.

 

I am looking forward to hearing from our panel what common sense steps we can take as a country to control this virus, and how the Administration plans to accomplish this goal. 

 

Today’s witnesses have long, distinguished careers under both Republican and Democratic presidents.  Public health is not a partisan issue, and I hope that all Members of the Committee will join me in seeking the best health advice for the American people, not fighting partisan political battles.

 

We do not need to lose another 150,000 American lives, but if we do not make drastic changes now, this tragic outcome is well within the realm of possibility. 

 

The Chair now recognizes the distinguished Ranking Member for his opening statement.

 

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116th Congress