As coronavirus cases rise across the country, "sparking worries the next big wave has begun," school districts throughout Upstate New York face a shortage of pediatric rapid tests needed to safely and efficiently continue in-person teaching throughout the winter, and even leaving some districts unsure how students will even be tested at all.
Today, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer revealed that the feds, specifically the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), is sitting on as much as $9 billion dollars needed right now as part of a more coordinated and robust virus testing regime as new standards require any symptomatic student or family member to have a rapid turnaround test within 48 hours or the school must presume a positive result and begin contact tracing.
The senator said Upstate New York alone will need millions of dollars to conduct sufficient rapid testing and tracing programs in schools to keep students and their families safe from the virus.
Schumer demanded HHS release the testing dollars he helped to originally secure in prior COVID relief legislation right now. Schumer also announced his intention to fight for more of those funds as the possibility of a second wave emerges and as a COVID relief deal, long hamstrung by a divided White House and Senate Leader McConnell, is considered.
“There’s absolutely no question that the health and safety of all students across Upstate New York is paramount, bar none. However, as any Upstate New Yorker can tell you, with allergy season upon us and flu season around the corner, in order to keep our students safe we’re going to need an influx of rapid tests and we’re going to need them quickly,” Senator Schumer said.
“Right now, the feds are sitting on over $9 billion that can and should be long out the door, being used to ramp up testing and tracing for students across the state. Those dollars should be used to get rapid tests to New York students and ensure peace of mind and some semblance of stability to students, families, and teachers who have already endured a tumultuous year.”
Schumer said that thousands of students and people Upstate will need to be tested every day, should a second wave hit hard, and that an effort like that will cost money the federal government is responsible for. Schumer made the case for applying the lessons learned over the past many months — right now — not after it’s too late.
According to the The New York Times, there were 4,675 new cases of COVID-19 in Upstate New York in the last week and the state reported that some regions are seeing up to a 1.5-percent positivity rate.
“This administration must remember sobering lessons and apply them. I first called for a public health emergency declaration on January 26, 2020 but that call was not heeded and inaction cost us precious time, money — and most critically — it cost this country lives.
The federal government cannot and must not repeat COVID mistakes of the past months. Instead, it must use the dollars it has and the premise of robust testing and tracing to tamp down any second wave of this virus and lead us to a true recovery,” Schumer added.
Schumer has repeatedly expressed his concerns and fought to improve testing and contact tracing throughout the country and New York State. In March, Schumer wrote to the CDC and FDA regarding federal barriers New York was facing in its effort to fully and quickly test people for COVID-19.
The testing capacity was not sufficient to meet New York’s needs and he urged the CDC and FDA to work with New York health officials. Now, as coronavirus cases across the country are rising again, the feds are sitting on money, billions of dollars, that is critical to delivering a coordinated and robust testing regime needed to offset the chances of a strong second wave of the virus.
According to the Washington Post, for almost a month, new COVID cases have been trending upward and more than 20 states have hit a new high in their seven-day average of case counts, and more than half of those states set records again last week. The rising numbers are especially concerning because they set the stage for an even greater surge this winter.
The newspaper warned that this upward trend comes before the increased mingling of people expected to arrive with Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas, much of which could be indoors as the weather cools, thereby increasing the chance of transmission.