Top HHS official denies report that national coronavirus testing plan was scrapped to hurt blue states

Adm. Brett Giroir, director of the U.S. coronavirus diagnostic testing, testifies during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 30, 2020.

Kevin Dietsch | Reuters

A report claiming the Trump administration scrapped plans for a national coronavirus testing strategy to make Democratic governors in some of the hardest hit states look bad is “preposterous,” a top U.S. health official said Friday. 

“I have never heard something so preposterous as ‘we’re not going to do a national plan because it’s affecting Democratic states,” Adm. Brett Giroir, an assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services, said in an interview on Fox News. “I would like to put that to rest because it’s really ridiculous and it foments mistrust in the public health system.” 

According to an article in Vanity Fair, a team led by the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner created a national testing plan early in the nation’s response to the pandemic that called the federal government to coordinate the distribution of test kits to heavily impacted areas, among other recommendations. The publication said it had obtained a copy of the plan. 

The report said Kushner’s team worked separately from Giroir’s team at HHS, which was tasked in mid-March with coordinating the nation’s testing efforts among the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, as well as state and local public health authorities and private or public clinical laboratories. 

However, Kushner’s plan was reportedly scrapped by the Trump administration because the coronavirus was hitting Democrat-led states the hardest, and a national strategy “would not make sense politically,” Vanity Fair reported, citing a public-health expert who spoke with a member on Kushner’s team familiar with the matter. 

Giroir said on Fox News that he saw Kushner’s plan and “implemented parts” of it. 

“We were all working together, there was no separation or not closet cabinet or no super-secret kind of plans. We all worked together,” Giroir said. 

Earlier this year, as the coronavirus spread from Asia and Europe to the U.S., states with Democrat governors, such as Washington, New York and California, were among the first to report severe coronavirus outbreaks. New York eventually became the country’s epicenter, reporting nearly 800 deaths every day at the height of its outbreak in April. 

At the time, the federal government struggled to advance the nation’s testing capacity and delegated the task to the states. New York scrambled to buy coronavirus test kits, eventually ramping up its own equipment manufacturing and lab testing capacity in the state. 

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been a frequent critic of the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, calling it the “virus of American division and federal incompetence.” 

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