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Health care workers with the UNLV School of Medicine wait in personal protective equipment for patients at a drive thru coronavirus testing site on March 24, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP) Health care workers with the UNLV School of Medicine wait in personal protective equipment for patients at a drive thru coronavirus testing site on March 24, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP)

Health care workers with the UNLV School of Medicine wait in personal protective equipment for patients at a drive thru coronavirus testing site on March 24, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP)

Eric Litke
By Eric Litke April 16, 2021

Wisconsin lawmaker overreaches on claim that Republicans delayed COVID testing

If Your Time is short

  • Republicans took almost no legislative action throughout 2020, going 300 without passing a bill after an initial COVID relief package in April 2020.

  • But the limitations on testing in Wisconsin have been attributed to lack of available supplies -- not lack of funding.

  • This phrasing implies Republicans blocked or delayed a specific bill that caused delays, and that’s not what happened.

With $3.2 billion from the federal government in play, legislative Republicans took a run at wrestling oversight away from Democratic Gov. Tony Evers.

The two Republican-run houses passed a bill that would have given them power over where to spend the money, but this latest of many partisan COVID skirmishes ended when Evers vetoed the bill March 29, 2021, announcing his own spending plan.

The shots fired before that veto included a March 28 TV appearance by Senate Minority Leader Janet Bewley, who leveled wide-ranging criticism of Republicans on WKOW-TV’s Capital City Sunday.

"You have to put this in context of how the Republicans typically do things in our state with anything having to do with COVID," said Bewley, D-Mason, when asked about the prospect of legislative oversight on the federal funds. "First they denied that there was really a big issue about it. … And then now that we have resources, they will delay it as much as they possibly can, as they did with testing and everything else."

Indeed, some Wisconsin Republicans have downplayed the threat of COVID-19, and legislative leaders drew widespread criticism after failing to pass any bill for a period of more than 300 days as the pandemic raged.

But Bewley included a specific criticism that is more original — that Republicans delayed testing, which has been a critical part of limiting the spread of COVID-19.

Did Republicans really slow that process?

Bewley short on specifics

The reference to delayed testing implies Republicans blocked or stalled some specific measure that caused delays.

But Bewley offered no such evidence when asked for backup for her claim. Rather, her staff pointed broadly to the Republican inaction after an initial COVID response bill passed in April 2020.

"By refusing to take any state action, pass any legislation, or allocate any state funds to COVID testing or other pandemic response, the Republicans effectively delayed our ability to make testing more widely available," said Leslie Westmont, a spokeswoman for Bewley. "For example, in November of 2020, Governor Evers proposed a COVID bill that would have allocated $403 million dollars to fund state-wide testing and surge capacity and require insurers to cover COVID-19 testing. The Republicans refused to take up the legislation."

RELATED: Wisconsin Republicans passed one COVID bill before long period of inaction

She added that with more resources — as Democrats requested —  "more testing could have been accomplished."

Featured Fact-check

Indeed, testing capacity was a problem throughout 2020, in Wisconsin and across the world. But officials here haven’t generally cited funding as the issue.

The testing process involves obtaining a collection kit, conducting the test and transporting it to a lab. Supplies needed along the way include at minimum a swab, transport liquid, protective gear, lab machinery and reagent — chemicals used to conduct the test at the lab.

In April 2020, state officials told PolitiFact Wisconsin the supply chain for each of those elements was short of what it needed to be for expanded testing. In August, Advocate Aurora Health stopped testing due to delays receiving testing supplies. Later that month, officials said testing was insufficient to begin reopening schools due to limited state lab capacity.

None of those reports referenced insufficient funding as an obstacle. Bewley also didn’t provide any evidence connecting those dots — a critical point since at PolitiFact the burden of proof is always on the speaker.

Alesha Emmert, spokeswoman for Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, said the bill Republicans passed in April 2020 made allowances for testing.

"The COVID relief bill we approved at the beginning of the pandemic included ensuring no co-pays for COVID-19 testing and setting aside $75 million in state dollars to address future, unexpected needs that federal dollars wouldn’t cover – including things like testing," Emmert said in an email. "Senator Bewley should know that, as she voted for the bill. She’s clearly confusing her talking points in an attempt to make a point that doesn’t exist."

Our ruling

Criticizing Republicans’ attempt to control disbursement of federal COVID funds, Bewley said Republicans had previously delayed COVID-19 testing.

The phrasing implies a specific action that led to testing being limited, but that not an accurate summary of the situation.

Yes, Republicans took almost no legislative action throughout 2020, and lack of testing was often referenced as a key hurdle in the pandemic. But officials throughout the year said testing shortages were about a lack of available supplies and testing capacity, not a shortage of funding.

It’s not impossible to believe additional funding would have improved testing, but without evidence that’s merely a hypothetical.

That leaves us with a grain of truth, but not much more.

We rate this claim Mostly False.

 

 

Our Sources

WKOW, Capital City Sunday: Who should control federal COVID-19 relief money, addressing anti-Asian sentiment, March 28, 2021

Email exchange with Leslie Westmont, spokeswoman for Janet Bewley, April 7, 2021

PolitiFact Wisconsin, Wisconsin is weeks from using anywhere near the listed coronavirus testing capacity, April 24, 2020

PolitiFact Wisconsin, Wisconsin Republicans passed one COVID bill before long period of inaction, April 2, 2021

Email exchange with Alesha Emmert, spokeswoman for Jim Steineke, April 6-7, 2021

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Gov. Tony Evers announces he'll direct $2.5 billion in federal relief money to economic recovery in Wisconsin, March 29, 2021

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Gov. Tony Evers signs Wisconsin coronavirus relief bill, though there is criticism of how it treats first responders, April 15, 2020

 

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Wisconsin lawmaker overreaches on claim that Republicans delayed COVID testing

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