AUGUSTA — Maine Sen. Susan Collins criticized the federal government’s response and “messaging” on coronavirus Friday, saying President Trump should allow public health officials to do the talking as the virus spreads.

“I would like the president to step back and appoint one of our public health officials to be the spokesman as we go through dealing with this novel virus,” said Collins, a Republican. “My suggestion would be Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has been around for decades and is such a well-regarded infectious disease specialist.”

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, speaks to reporters Friday after meeting with leaders of Maine’s health care providers about the coronavirus pandemic, including members of the Maine Hospital Association and the Maine Medical Association, at the Muskie Federal Building in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Fauci, who is the top infectious disease expert at the National Institutes of Health, has been openly critical of the federal government’s handling of some aspects of the coronavirus. On Thursday, for instance, he told a congressional committee that the federal government was “failing” to keep pace with the demand for testing, particularly when compared to the more rapid and widespread testing being done in other countries.

“The system is not really geared to what we need right now,” Fauci said. “That is a failing. It is a failing, let’s admit it.”

Trump, meanwhile, has been criticized for at times downplaying the severity of the threat coronavirus poses to public health and to the nation’s economy.

Speaking with reporters in Augusta after meeting with representatives of Maine’s health care industry, Collins praised Maine Gov. Janet Mills and the state’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention for steps they are taking to address the spread of coronavirus as additional cases surface.

“We are making progress at the federal level, but I am not satisfied with the response,” Collins said. “I think that the messaging at the federal level has been inconsistent and when you are dealing with a novel virus like this, it’s very important that health professionals be out front and that there be a consistent message.”

Collins also said she supports free coronavirus testing, which Mills has required in Maine. Instead of paid sick leave, which Democrats on Capitol Hill have been pushing to help idled workers, Collins said she prefers using emergency unemployment insurance, which can be “distributed very quickly.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been negotiating directly with the Trump administration on a coronavirus response package that is expected to provide paid leave, additional food aid and money for testing. Congress will likely take up that package this weekend or next week.

Collins, who chairs the Senate Special Committee on Aging, acknowledged that Maine has unique challenges because of its aging population and rural nature.

“I have huge confidence in our health care providers in Maine,” Collins said. “They are collaborative, they are creative and they are prepared. But we need to give them assistance. We need to have consistent guidance coming out of the federal agencies.”

 

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