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Herrera Beutler co-sponsors bill to speed virus vaccine; Murray blasts White House response

U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, has co-sponsored a bill that could expedite the development of a vaccine or treatment for COVID-19.

It’s one of several attempts by three federal lawmakers from Washington to beat back the outbreak of the infectious disease, which has gained its first domestic toehold in their home state.

The Cure the Coronavirus Act would authorize the Food and Drug Administration to award vouchers for an expedited review of drugs that prevent or treat COVID-19, a new disease that is part of the family of coronaviruses.

“If bureaucratic red tape gets in the way of viable treatments, we’re unnecessarily putting lives at risk,” Herrera Beutler said in a media release. “We will be infinitely more effective in containing and preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus in this nation if we work in a cooperative, bipartisan fashion and focus on solutions.”

Similar vouchers are already available for drug companies working on treatments for infectious tropical diseases, including Zika virus and Ebola. The bill would expand that existing program to include COVID-19.

Herrera Beutler was among the four members of Congress to support the bill introduced to the House floor on Friday. Two other co-sponsors hail from New York, where a second coronavirus case was confirmed Tuesday morning. The fourth lawmaker on the bill is from California, where multiple cases had been confirmed across six counties as of late Tuesday afternoon.

Nine people in Washington have died of coronavirus, the only U.S. fatalities linked to the disease thus far. Worldwide COVID-19 has killed more than 3,000 people, with epicenters in China, Iran and Italy.

Patty Murray, the senior Democratic senator from Washington, delivered a scorching rebuke of the White House’s response to the coronavirus outbreak in an address before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Tuesday morning.

“I’m hearing from people that are sick who want to get tested are not being told where to go. I’m hearing that even when people do get tested — and it’s very few so far — the results are taking way longer to get back to them,” said Murray, who serves as the committee’s ranking member.

As reported by The New York Times, the Trump administration delivered mixed signals Tuesday on how quickly coronavirus testing could ramp up. The head of the FDA said in a White House briefing that the country could have the capacity for a million tests by the end of the week, but the companies developing those tests say their products are still weeks away. Testing labs, too, told the Times through a Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson that public health labs can currently process up to 15,000 tests per day, although that capacity is expected to increase.

“The administration has had months to prepare for this, and it’s unacceptable that people in my state and nationwide can’t even get an answer as to whether or not they are infected. To put it simply, if some at the White House or in this administration are actually in charge of responding to the coronavirus, it’d be news to anybody in my state,” Murray said.

Later that day, Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell announced she had sent letters to 10 airlines and 15 airports asking leaders to detail their plans for handling coronavirus.

Cantwell requested information on airport and aircraft cleaning policies, as well as pandemic response plans. She also asked about existing protocol for notifying passengers when communicable diseases are detected and flight cancellation policies under those circumstances.

“There has been limited public guidance issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), or other federal health and security agencies regarding steps U.S. airports or the traveling public should take to address COVID-19,” Cantwell wrote, adding that the detailed information from airlines and airports would help determine what federal resources might be needed going forward.

Cantwell sent the letters in preparation for a subcommittee hearing Wednesday focused on how the aviation industry can best mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. She is the ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.



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