Most Americans Say Feds Are Responsible for Covid-19 Testing

A test is performed on a patient in a Covid-19 triage tent at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Yonkers, N.Y., on April 20, 2020. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

(CN) — The majority of Americans believe that the federal government has primary responsibility for Covid-19 testing, but there are strong disagreements along partisan lines over responses to the ongoing pandemic.

A Pew Research Center survey released Tuesday shows 61% of overall respondents said that the federal government is either mostly or entirely responsible for making Covid-19 tests available “in order to safely lift restrictions on public activity.” However, the average belied opposing majorities of Republicans and Democrats.

In the poll of 10,957 adults between April 29 and May, 57% of Republican respondents indicated that testing responsibility falls primarily on state governments, whereas 78% of Democratic respondents asserted the federal government’s primary responsibility.

Stratifying by age, the belief that testing responsibility falls on state governments increased with age, though majorities from every age bracket assigned the responsibility to the federal government. Seventy percent of respondents between 18 and 29 years old assigned primary testing responsibility to the federal government, followed by 64% of those between 30 and 49 years old, 56% of people between 50 and 64 years old and 53% of those 65 or older.

Despite generational disparities in reactions to the Covid-19 crisis, partisanship played a notable role in public perceptions of the pandemic’s overall effect. For example, Democratic respondents are increasingly worried about the U.S. population’s health as a whole – 78% in March versus 82% in the latest survey. In contrast, Republican respondents are becoming less worried about overall U.S. health with only 43% who voiced concerns, compared to 52% in March.

Partisans differed most regarding President Donald Trump’s response to the pandemic. Seventy-seven percent of Republicans said Trump was doing an excellent or good job, whereas only 11% of Democrats said the same. However, both Republicans and Democrats were less supportive of the president than they were in the previous survey in March.

Most Americans from either major political party supported public health officials (72% averaged from 68% of Republicans and 75% of Democrats), local elected officials (64% averaged from 61% of Republicans and 66% of Democrats) and state elected officials (62% averaged from 60% of Republicans and 64% of Democrats).

Respondents from either party were nearly equally as worried about the U.S. economy during the pandemic, at 89% for Democrats and 88% for Republicans. Democrats worries have eased slightly from 92% in March, while Republicans worries have increased from 84% in March.

Despite the public’s overall impression that testing responsibility fell on the federal government, governors have struggled to meet testing needs without additional federal assistance. For example, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo told the White House not to “pass the buck without passing the bucks” at a press briefing on April 17. 

But Trump has continued to assign responsibility to the governors and said that “states, not the federal government, should be doing the testing” in an April 20 tweet.

Cuomo said during a briefing the same day as the president’s tweet that while states should “take the lead” on tests, they needed federal aid to make broadscale testing viable.

That same day, news broke that Maryland Governor Larry Hogan managed to acquire roughly half a million tests from South Korea, thanks to his wife Yumi Hogan’s fluency in Korean as a Korean American immigrant.

Earlier in April, Trump claimed that the Obama administration left the national stockpile of emergency supplies empty. “The cupboard was bare,” he repeatedly stated in various press briefings. When pressed on lack of testing apparatus, Trump has downplayed the need for testing.

Despite Trump’s portrayal of testing needs, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany touted the nation’s new testing capabilities during a press briefing Tuesday.

“As it stands, we are now testing at a higher rate per capita than South Korea” in all 50 states, she said. However, when asked to identify specific metrics regarding an increased need for testing as states reopen in tiered stages, McEnany recommended “strategic testing” and implied that masks and physical distance are more important than tests.

Nonetheless, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, explained during a Tuesday hearing with the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee that broad increases in testing capacity and personal protective equipment for essential workers are crucial “checkpoints” in the initiative to reopen America.

Otherwise, “this will not only result in needless suffering and death, but would actually set us back on our quest to return to normal,” Fauci said.

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