WASHINGTON — When Washington state emerged as the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, Sen. Patty Murray was already pushing President Donald Trump and the administration to act. Now that her home state’s death toll has reached 37 with more than 1,900 confirmed cases nationwide, Murray is furious that the president didn’t act sooner.
Murray, the lead Democrat on the Senate’s Health Committee, first called on Trump’s administration to intervene as early as January and told BuzzFeed News Friday that the administration was largely unresponsive leading up to the death of a Washington resident, the first person to die in the US, two weeks ago.
“Look, from day one, when we started seeing this grow and develop in China and continue to grow rapidly and expansively, all of us should have been aware that issues like a virus don’t stay in one place. That we are a global community, people travel. ... Instead, the reaction from the federal government or from the person in the White House, in particular, was ‘no worries, be happy,’” Murray told BuzzFeed News in a phone interview on Friday. “And I am so angry and frustrated at that.”
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On Feb. 15, Murray and 25 other senators sent a letter to Trump pushing him to request emergency funding to combat the novel coronavirus. By Feb. 24, Trump asked Congress for $2.5 billion, a figure Democrats said wasn’t enough. Four days later, Trump called coronavirus Democrats’ “new hoax.” A few days later, he told people at a town hall in Scranton, Pennsylvania, that the US “got hit with the virus really three weeks ago” — this after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had declared the first confirmed coronavirus case in the country more than six weeks earlier.
“It seems to me, from day one, the message from the top [of] this administration has been to downplay it,” Murray said. “I don’t believe in panicking people, but I believe that our response as a country has to be ... a sense of urgency,” she added.
Murray said other members of Trump’s administration were equally unresponsive. Earlier this month, Murray and nine other senators sent a letter to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos asking how her department is coordinating with public health officials as it relates to coronavirus preparedness.
“My own granddaughter’s school at that point had been closed for a week,” Murray told BuzzFeed News. “I saw specifically what they were dealing with in terms of making sure that kids get access to material, that nutritious lunches were being provided for kids whose only meal, every day, was in the school — kids who were sick themselves.”
The letter went unanswered as schools across the nation have begun to close in an effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a former presidential candidate whom Trump called “a snake” during a news conference, announced statewide school closures on Friday and he has banned public gatherings of more than 250 people.
Globally, more than 140,000 have contracted the disease with 1,998 in the US, as of Friday evening, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. There have been 43 deaths in the US with 37 of them coming from Washington state. Twenty-five of those deaths were linked to the Life Care Center, a nursing home in Kirkland, Washington.
Murray is one of several lawmakers who has expressed concerns about access to coronavirus testing, particularly after a briefing from administration officials on Capitol Hill left members furious with the lack of information on the issue.
Murray said that after she made numerous calls to administration officials and held a hearing asking when testing would be available, health officials told senators during the closed-door briefing: “‘No, we can’t tell you when.”
“I am still talking to families every day who are being told ‘we don’t have the test,’” Murray said. “The message, consistently to everybody is, if you are sick, stay home.”