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Lamar Alexander: The best way to get Americans back to work and back to school? All roads lead through testing


U.S. SenateWashington, D.C. – I introduced legislation that will help hospitals in Tennessee keep up with the cost of providing care and help curb the trend of rural hospital closures by setting an appropriate national minimum for the Medicare Area Wage Index. Learn more about this legislation here.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced more CARES Act funding – $35 million is headed to two Tennessee hospitals that have treated a higher number of COVID-19 Coronavirus patients, Vanderbilt University Medical Center ($24.8 million) and Sumner Regional Medical Center ($10.6 million).

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander

Another $239 million is headed to 289 rural hospitals, doctors, and clinics across the state.   

The Health Resources and Services Administration announced that 29 community health centers across Tennessee will receive an additional $9.4 million to expand COVID-19 testing. 

This funding is in addition to the $25 million these community health centers received last month.

The best way to get Americans back to work and back to school?

All roads lead through testing. 

This week, the Senate health committee I chair held a hearing to explore the best way to get Americans back to work and back to school – increased testing for COVID-19 Coronavirus. Our country will soon be doing two million diagnostic tests for COVID-19 Coronavirus a week, an impressive number.

But to contain the disease and give confidence to Americans that it is safe to leave our homes, we will need tens of millions of tests, many more than our current technologies can produce. Testing is necessary to identify the small number of those with the disease and those exposed to it, so they can be quarantined, instead of quarantining the whole country.

Testing will help Americans traumatized by daily reports of the virus gain the confidence to go back to work and back to school. The end to this crisis will be determined by three things: tests, treatments, and vaccines. There is promising news that treatments and therapies will be available this summer.

The administration’s warp-speed pursuit of a vaccine has a goal of 100 million doses by the fall and 300 million by January, a target much more ambitious than has ever been achieved before. And the private sector is demonstrating a capacity to turn out quickly tens of millions of serology tests — tests to determine whether you have had the disease and have antibodies that might create some immunity, at least for a time. 

The president’s coronavirus task force reports that states have submitted their goals for testing for May and the administration is working to help supply media and swabs that states are not able to obtain on the commercial market. That is impressive — but not nearly enough. To test every nursing home, and every prison, everyone in an operating room, and some entire classes and campuses and factories, teams at sporting events, and to give those tests more than once, we will need millions of more tests.

This demand will only grow as the country goes back to work and some 100,000 public schools and more than 5,000 colleges plan to reopen this August.

Working with my colleague from Missouri, Senator Roy Blunt, we included in the most recent coronavirus legislation $1.5 billion for a competitive “shark tank” led by Dr. Francis Collins of the National Institutes of Health, who testified at our hearing this week. This initiative utilizes the capacities of government itself, in coordination with the private sector, to pull out all the stops and fast track new technologies designed to produce tens of millions of tests by August.

There is no safe path forward to combat the novel coronavirus without adequate testing. Let us hope that out of Dr. Collins’ shark tank will emerge at least one mighty great white shark that will help us combat this disease.  

How can the CARES Act can help you?

I encourage Tennesseans to visit my website to learn more about how you can take advantage of the federal assistance Congress passed and President Trump signed into law that will keep paychecks coming, relieve financial burdens and help contain COVID-19 Coronavirus.   


Tennesseans fighting back against COVID-19 Coronavirus

Over the last couple of weeks, I have highlighted a few examples of how Tennesseans are showing their “Volunteer Spirit” by supporting their communities and the medical professionals on the front lines fighting to contain the spread of COVID-19 Coronavirus. Here are some inspiring stories from this week:

Jeremy Pruitt, head football coach for the Tennessee Volunteers, made a surprise call-in to a lifelong Tennessee football fan who is working on the frontlines fighting COVID-19 at Vanderbilt University Medical Center to thank him for all of the work he is doing to keep Tennessee communities safe.  

Scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory are helping to speed up manufacturing of life-saving equipment such as face shields, masks and test kits. Government investment in basic science and advanced manufacturing at our national laboratories is more important than ever.

Renfro Corp., a company that operates a manufacturing and distribution center in Cleveland will be delivering 300,000 cloth face masks across the state of Tennessee this week. 


Clarifying Title IX law for schools across the country 

This week, the U.S. Department of Education made final its rule clarifying Title IX – a federal law protecting students from sex discrimination in education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance – so that schools will more fully understand their roles and responsibilities to better comply with the law.

This final rule respects and supports victims and preserves due process rights for both the victim and the accused. For example, the rule ensures victims get the support they need to change classes or dorms if they allege they have been sexually assaulted or sexually harassed and the rule ensures the victim and the accused get a fair hearing to resolve such allegations.

I am glad Education Secretary Betsy DeVos undertook this rulemaking to help give more certainty to victims, the accused, and college administrators. Under the previous administration, a single official at the U.S. Department of Education was issuing edicts, without the proper public input, to 6,000 colleges and universities about how to handle the complex and sensitive problem of sexual assault on college campuses.

To resolve this, Secretary DeVos undertook the appropriate public rulemaking process beginning in November 2018, including the opportunity for individuals, groups and educational institutions to review and submit comments. 

Celebrating Teacher Appreciation Day

This week, we celebrated Teacher Appreciation Day. Many Tennesseans who are helping their children learn from home appreciate now, more than ever, the impact teachers have in the lives of their students. I too had some great teachers, but Miss Lennis Tedford was the best.

From Miss Tedford, I learned more than music — she taught me the discipline of Czerny and the metronome, the logic of Bach and the clean joy of Mozart. So, a big thank you to teachers in Tennessee—and across the country—who continue to find new, creative ways to educate the next generation during this unprecedented time. You are truly among the heroes of our country.




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