Sens. Mitt Romney and Kyrsten Sinema are raising alarms that the federal government is “behind the curve” in tallying the scope of the coronavirus’s spread in the United States, pressing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to quickly devise a real-time national system for tracking the pandemic.
The Utah Republican and Arizona Democrat sent a letter to CDC Director Robert Redfield on Thursday laying out the challenges the United States is facing in trying to assess an accurate national picture for the disease’s creep across the country. So far, more than 850,000 Americans have contracted the virus and over 43,500 have died. The bipartisan pair conclude that they are “deeply concerned” about the state of affairs in tracking how many people have it and where, according to a copy provided to POLITICO.
In an interview on Thursday, Romney bluntly laid out his worries about the federal government’s inability to get a grip of the scope of the disease in real time. He said earlier this spring he spoke to Redfield and asked for information on the ages and conditions of people being put into intensive care units.
Redfield “was unable to provide almost any information on that front,” Romney said, explaining the patchwork reporting system that hospitals and states use to report coronavirus infections. Some of them are done in pen and pencil which “struck me as the kind of thing that I would have expected from the 1960s, not the 2020s,” Romney said.
“We have one eye closed and the other eye is clouded over instead of having a clear, real time dashboard of all the patients in the country,” Romney said.
Romney made clear he was not blaming Redfield, the CDC or even President Donald Trump and his administration, even though Romney has been the GOP senator most critical of the president over the past year and voted to remove him from office during the Senate’s impeachment trial. He laid the current predicament at the feet of lackluster, long-running funding from Congress and lack of focus from several administrations.
“I blame, if you will, Congress and administrations, all of us who are responsible for public health not blowing the whistle on this,” Romney said. Notably, Congress on Thursday was finalizing approval of $25 billion for testing for coronavirus as part of a $484 billion coronavirus relief measure.
But that’s only a piece of the puzzle, the senators say. Even if testing expands, policymakers and politicians can’t make informed decisions without a treasure trove of data.
In the letter, Sinema and Romney indicated how problematic it could be for decisions to be made to reopen economies without a clear picture of what is happening nationwide. They expressed concern that there isn’t standardized data from each state and asked the CDC for a comprehensive look at state-by-state case information, hospitalization rates, patients’ treatment status, ICU statistics and demographics.
“Here we are at the end of April, we’ve had this now for a quarter of a year or longer and we’re still not quite certain who is getting impacted and why,” Romney added. “It’s very hard to make clear-eyed decisions without full data on where the disease exists.”
In a statement, Sinema said she’s also “urging the CDC to implement a contact-tracing system that will keep Arizonans safe and help save lives.”
Sinema might have some extra sway on the matter, as she was named by Trump to a congressional task force on reopening the economy. Romney was the only Republican senator to be left out and Trump said it was because he holds a grudge against Romney’s impeachment vote.
“Oh, I don’t worry about those things,” Romney said with a chuckle.