U.S. Senators Tina Smith, Bill Cassidy Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Improve National COVID-19 Testing and Tracing

WASHINGTON, D.C. [08/7/20]—U.S. Senators Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-La.) introduced bipartisan legislation this week to improve coronavirus (COVID-19) testing and tracing in Minnesota and across the country. Representatives Angie Craig (MN-2) and Phil Roe (TN-01) introduced the bipartisan house companion today. 

The Suppress COVID-19 Act would support states’ work to address the virus by helping them purchase tests and testing supplies. It would also allow states to work together in interstate compacts and regional agreements to overcome challenges with the testing supply chain, such as a lack of available tests and slow turn-around for test results. 

Sen. Smith says that this bipartisan strategy will help states not only contain the virus but suppress it, too.

“As COVID-19 continues to spread across the country, there is no replacement for a federal strategy on testing,” said Senator Smith. “This bill requires the federal government to develop a strategy to provide guidance to states, while giving states the resources they need to implement a strong testing, tracing, and reopening strategy. Combined together, this will serve as a powerful approach to beating back this pandemic nationwide.” 

“The Suppress COVID-19 Act uses market forces to increase testing capacity at a lower price per test. This is part of a strategy to safely reopen schools, churches and places of work. We must get our nation back to normal,” said Dr. Cassidy.

“In order to reopen our local economies safely, it’s imperative that we increase testing,” said Rep. Angie Craig. “Make no mistake, we still need a national testing strategy, and this bill is intended to complement such a strategy. It would provide states with necessary investments to strengthen their testing capacities.”

The Suppress COVID-19 Act empowers states to end testing shortages by providing $25 billion in funding for testing and authorizing the formation of regional compacts and other regional collaborative agreements for the purpose of testing procurement.

Under the bill, states are not required to use testing dollars in the context of regional agreements, however, those that do will be eligible for part of a $5 billion set-aside from the overall testing amount. Unlike states alone, regional compacts can:

  • give manufacturers of tests and supplies guaranteed contracts, providing them the certainty they need to ramp up testing capacity;
  • deliver innovative tests at an affordable price, rapidly expanding the national testing arsenal;
  • allow multiple states to leverage their market power to purchase tests and testing supplies at lower rates;
  • protect small, rural, and remote states from being crowded out of the testing market by big states; and
  • distribute tests across a region to plug gaps in testing capacity. 

The Suppress COVID-19 Act also provides states with an additional $25 billion to do the work of testing, contact tracing and supported isolation (TTSI). To receive funding for TTSI, the bill requires states to:

  • submit addendums to testing plans for the purpose of COVID-19 suppression;
  • report key performance indicators tied to best practices for testing, contact tracing and supported isolation; and 
  • consult with local and Tribal public health offices.

The legislation is also supported by Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Angus King (I-Maine).