Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-NM, said more action needs to be taken to increase how many tests for novel coronavirus (COVID-19) are processed in New Mexico and provide economic assistance to people directly impacted by the pandemic.
“I strongly believe that our first, second and third priority need to be bringing all our resources to bear in coordinated efforts to address the public health challenge at hand,” Heinrich said in a press call Thursday.
Successfully managing the virus, he said, will require more and faster testing for the virus in New Mexico. Heinrich said that will require more supplies that will accelerate the number of tests that can be processed.
The Food and Drug Administration has granted an Emergency Use Authorization to Abbott Laboratories in Illinois, which will allow the company to supply New Mexico with technology to increase the rate and speed at which they process COVID-19 tests.
Heinrich said labs like TriCore in Albuquerque have the equipment to increase testing capabilities but need the supplies to do so.
When labs such as TriCore receive the necessary testing supplies, they can more than double their existing daily testing capacity, Heinrich said.
Efforts are also being made to increase the availability of Personal Protection Equipment — or PPEs — for first responders and health care providers.
PPEs are pieces of equipment worn by individuals to reduce risk of serious injury and illness in the workplace, according to the website of the Occupational Health and Safety Agency. Protective equipment includes safety glasses, earplugs, respirators, hardhats, coveralls, vests and full-body suits.
Heinrich said President Donald Trump should use the authority granted under the Defense Production Act to spur the manufacturing of PPEs and testing supplies.
Trump said at a White House press conference that he was invoking his authority under the 70-year-old Cold War-era law to produce needed equipment to combat the coronavirus.
That same day though, Trump said he only signed the act so it could possibly be used in a worst-case scenario in the future.
“Hopefully there will be no need, but we are all in this TOGETHER,” Trump tweeted.
Heinrich said the necessity exists now so that healthcare workers can have the equipment they need.
“If there is ever a time to invoke the Defense Production Act, it is right now,” Heinrich said.
Several days after it passed the U.S. House of Representatives, the Senate voted to approve the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, an appropriation designed to help those impacted by the coronavirus.
Senators voted 90 to 8 for the package.
The legislation includes paid sick leave, additional money for food assistance and unemployment benefits and free coronavirus testing, according to a summary of the bill.
Heinrich said the bill was a good start, but more will need to be done to help blunt the economic impact of the virus on those who had hours reduced or jobs lost due to the pandemic.
“We need to have the backs of the food service workers, the hospitality workers who rely on New Mexico’s tourism industry, and all the workers whose jobs and lives have been thrown into disarray,” Heinrich said.
In recent days, several discussions have been floated to provide individual Americans with checks to help them weather the economic turmoil ahead. Trump has mentioned providing Americans with checks of as much as $1,000.
A similar proposal, supported by Sen. Tom Udall, D-NM, would temporarily provide quarterly checks of up to $2,000 to Americans.
Heinrich said he did not specify which proposal he would support, but said in the current circumstances, issuing checks makes a lot of sense, if done correctly.
The money, he said, would be pumped into the economy because recipients will likely use it for basic needs such as rent, food and medicine, and add stability to their lives.
A possible payroll tax cut, Heinrich said, would not be as effective because it would more likely go to higher-income earners.
The checks, he said, could provide the basis for a larger economic recovery.
Heinrich said he will be viewing economic stimulus proposals based on what will deliver the most relief to people in need.
Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at email@example.com.