- The Washington Times - Monday, April 20, 2020

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan took to heart President Trump’s call for states to step up in the coronavirus fight, announcing Monday he’d spent three weeks procuring a half-million tests from a South Korean company.

His wife Yumi, a Korean immigrant, served as a translator and go-between.

“They want the states to take the lead, and we have to go out and do it ourselves, and so that’s exactly what we did,” said Mr. Hogan, a Republican.

The governor said they quietly combatted 13-hour time differences and regulatory red tape to get the shipment, as Mr. Trump says he’ll support state efforts but he expects governors to do the heavy lifting.

The president on Monday scolded Democratic governors who say the administration hasn’t been helpful, saying they’re playing a “very dangerous political game.”

“States, not the Federal Government, should be doing the Testing — But we will work with the Governors and get it done. This is easy compared to the fast production of thousands of complex Ventilators!” Mr. Trump tweeted Monday.

Testing remains a key sticking point in the fight against the coronavirus, which has sickened about 775,000 people in the U.S. and killed over 41,000.

Mr. Trump is prodding states to look beyond state laboratories and tap into commercial labs that can process more tests, instead of criticizing his team in Washington.

He said his administration provided governors with a list of labs that have excess capacity because some governors “didn’t understand it,” singling out Mr. Hogan, who on Sunday said the notion governors aren’t trying is “false,” and Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who’s been critical of Mr. Trump in television appearances.

Officials said they’ll make federal facilities with testing machines available to the governors. They said many of them are in Maryland.

“The governor of Maryland could have called Mike Pence, could have saved a lot of money,” Mr. Trump said.

Many governors say Mr. Trump is right in one key respect— they do have lab capacity. But they want the federal government to help them procure items like swabs, chemical reagents and protective equipment for lab workers.

Officials in Michigan said they’re able to run about 9,500 tests per day but they are hoping for a federal assist in obtaining more swabs, especially for the southeast part of the state.

“We are still in need of swabs and test kits at our hospital labs,” said Lynn Sutfin, spokeswoman for the state Department of Health and Human Services. “We continue to seek supplies on the open market and have requested these items from” the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Administration officials said they’re making progress.

Mr. Trump plans to use the Defense Production Act to prod one company in the U.S. northeast to produce up to 10 million testing swabs per month. Meanwhile, an Ohio company that typically makes Q-tips will convent to testing swabs and make 20 million per month, for a total of 30 million.

Officials also said a lab in Tennessee will produce 40 million collection tubes per month.

Some governors also reported progress.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine on Monday said some companies are mixing new chemical formulas for testing. He said the Food and Drug Administration reached out after he told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that swift approval of these formulas would allow him to double, or even triple, testing in his state.

“They told me they were working on it,” the Republican governor said. “There are companies that are trying to develop new reagents, new recipes for the reagent, and some of those have their application pending with the FDA.”

Ohio State University researchers have also been developing 3D-printed testing swabs and a salt solution that’s used to transport swabs.

“We have invented swabs in the state, and we are sharing that technology with sister states so that they could do the same,” said Dr. Amy Acton, director of the state Department of Health.

Dr. Acton said her department is examining the feasibility of moving swabs around to different labs if a given hospital can only do a certain amount of tests per day.

In Maryland, Mr. Hogan said the federal government has been a good partner in many respects but it’s been a chore to get test kits because he is competing with other states.

He leveraged his wife’s language skills and their friendship with the South Korean ambassador to the U.S. to obtain test kits from Seongnam-based LabGenomics. The kits will allow the state to run 500,000 tests for COVID-19.

“From the beginning of this coronavirus pandemic, one of the biggest problems in America has been the lack of availability of testing. It remains the most serious obstacle to safely reopening our states,” Mr. Hogan said.

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, who is set to take on Mr. Trump in November, said the White House is falling short.

“The administration’s response on testing has been so slow, and so ineffective, that the governor of Maryland — a Republican — had to turn to South Korea to get badly-needed tests,” Mr. Biden said. “Think about that: a governor had to turn to a country halfway around the world for aid because he couldn’t rely on timely help from a president and a White House that sits just miles from his state’s border.”

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, meanwhile, said “the president is right” in delegating primary responsibility to the states but that he still needs help in obtaining supplies.

He said there are about 300 state-regulated labs in New York that cannot ramp up testing because they can’t obtain the necessary equipment from national manufacturers.

“This is a quagmire, because it’s not just funding,” the governor said at his daily briefing on COVID-19.

He said he’s offered money to national manufacturers but has been told they can’t get the proper chemicals that might come from overseas, or they can’t make vials and swabs fast enough.

“So I don’t know what’s right or what’s wrong with that national supply chain question, but that’s where the federal government could help,” Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, said. “Should the states take the lead on the tests? Yes.”

“But we need the volume, and the volume will be determined by how well those national manufacturers provide the kits to the 300 labs in New York,” he said.

New York is by far the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S.

Mr. Cuomo on Monday reported 478 new coronavirus-related deaths in the state, though that was down from the daily numbers over the past week or so. Also, hospitalizations and intubations continued to trend downward.

The governor said it’s time to start asking how long the “descent” from the apex of the crisis will be.

“The question is now how long is the descent and how steep is the descent? And nobody knows,” he said.

Mr. Cuomo said contact tracing, a labor-intensive process where people in proximity to a person who tested positive are tracked, will be a critical part of the descent and should be a state responsibility along with testing.

“Anything that is granular and specific … leave that to the state government,” the governor said.

Later Monday, Mr. Trump highlighted Mr. Cuomo’s willingness to take on key tasks. The president also said the governor will meet with him in the Oval Office on Tuesday.

Rep. Frank Pallone, New Jersey Democrat and House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman, said the nation would still benefit from a national strategy.

In a letter, he said Mr. Trump’s push to reopen the country is on a collision course with the lack of testing.

“Instead of showing leadership, competence, and vision in a time of crisis, it appears the Trump administration is abdicating its responsibility and forcing states and communities to fend for themselves and find their own way out of this pandemic,” Mr. Pallone wrote to U.S. coronavirus coordinator Deborah Birx.

The U.S. has conducted the most tests of any country in the world — 3.9 million and counting — although Mr. Trump’s critics note that per capita testing has lagged and that technical fumbles put the country on the back foot.

The New Jersey congressman said the administration declined a test from the World Health Organization and created its own at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only to botch the rollout in February.

“Right now, the administration’s top priority should be forming specific plans to reopen the country in a way that will not jeopardize public health and result in sharp increases in new infections and deaths,” Mr. Pallone wrote. “Critically, that will rely on greatly expanding testing from its current state.”

Mr. Hogan said he spent $9 million on the testing to give his state a leg up in rooting out the virus and reopening the economy safely. So far, the state has recorded nearly 14,000 cases and over 430 deaths.

The outbreak hit South Korea hard in February, making it the second epicenter after China.It has been praised for its effective and swift response to the spread of the virus, including advanced testing capabilities, and has been exporting test kits to several countries.

“I want to sincerely thank our Korean partners for assisting us in our fight against his common, hidden enemy,” Mr. Hogan said, before expressing his gratitude in Korean. “Kamsahamnida.”

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

• David Sherfinski can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

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