My Turn: Sununu and Trump failed the state on testing

For the Monitor
Published: 4/28/2020 7:00:05 AM

As we discuss whether to reopen the economy, the biggest piece of the puzzle to ensure Granite Staters’ safety is missing: testing.

New Hampshire is last in per capita testing compared to our neighboring New England states and in the bottom half of per capita testing in the United States.

And while Donald Trump is central to the testing crisis we find ourselves in, Gov. Chris Sununu has stood by Trump’s mismanagement and failure on testing at every turn.

When Trump refused to act early on testing despite warnings from experts and Congress, Sununu didn’t say a peep – allowing this inadequate and chaotic testing situation to continue. Intelligence officials warned Trump as early as November that coronavirus could pose a threat to the United States. But instead of spending months preparing the country to respond to COVID-19 by ramping up testing capacity, the Trump administration squandered this critical time.

The result is the U.S. testing lags behind other countries and has left New Hampshire flying blind in how to stop the spread of coronavirus.

Sununu made a major miscalculation when he trusted Trump to fix the problem and in doing so wasted precious time that could have been better spent ramping up testing.

The most glaring example of this is the Abbott rapid testing machines that Trump touted as “a whole new ballgame.” Sununu talked up the machines as well, bragging that the Abbott device “is going to change how we respond to the virus in our state.” But when New Hampshire officials received the promised 15 machines, they received only 120 test cartridges with the capacity to run only 100 tests or so after the machines are calibrated – that’s only 15% of what the state had requested.

During the time Sununu was touting the promise of the Abbott testing machines, New Hampshire started to fall behind in per capita testing compared to our neighboring states.

A group of public health experts wrote a letter to Sununu that said, “As of April 5, only 101 tests for the COVID-19 testing are pending at the New Hampshire public laboratory; this is the lowest testing rate in the last few months just as there is exponential growth of cases expected. It appears that the COVID-19 testing program in New Hampshire has collapsed.” Just as our state’s testing system needed help, Sununu trusted Trump’s word and got burned.

Since Sununu and Trump failed to get our state the testing it needs, they’ve now turned to downplaying the importance of testing to keeping Granite Staters safe.

Last week, Sununu said, “I don’t think there’s any case of a lack of testing causing an outbreak to be worse than it potentially could be.” But that can’t be further from the truth.

Experts have consistently cautioned that we simply don’t know how many people are infected, nor where the hotspots are, because of a lack of testing. We have seen the consequences at our long-term care facilities, where outbreaks are affecting our most vulnerable.

Widely accessible testing could have alerted our officials to outbreaks sooner but instead New Hampshire officials were left in the dark as coronavirus spread quietly.

Having better data on who and how many people are sick is key to stopping the spread of the virus. But while our state is last in testing per capita in New England, Chris Sununu seems content with the amount of testing and has said, “Anyone in the state if the provider deems it appropriate based on their symptoms and context, everyone can get a test” – echoing Vice President Mike Pence, who told governors on a call last week that “we have a sufficient amount of testing.”

But the truth is that our testing capacity is simply not enough to have a data-driven policy to contain and emerge from this pandemic.

As our state lags our New England neighbors in testing per capita, we need to ramp up testing fast. New Hampshire lost critical time to build up testing infrastructure because Sununu put his blind trust in Trump.

Now is the crucial time for action, Governor. Please let the citizens of New Hampshire know how you plan to bring this about.

(Gary Woods of Bow represents Merrimack District 23 in the New Hampshire House of Representatives.)

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