Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, arrives for a briefing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, March, 12, 2020, on the coronavirus outbreak. Credit: Carolyn Kaster | AP

As of 1 p.m. Friday, March 13, test results show that two Maine residents have tested presumptive positive for the coronavirus. Click here for the latest coronavirus news, which the BDN has made free for the public. You can support this mission by purchasing a digital subscription

AUGUSTA, Maine — U.S. Sen. Susan Collins criticized the federal government’s handling of the novel coronavirus outbreak on Friday, characterizing the Trump administration’s messaging as “inconsistent” while saying testing “should be more available than it is.”

The Maine Republican took questions from reporters after meeting leaders from medical groups in Augusta. Collins said she thought President Donald Trump, who has been criticized for incorrectly saying that the coronavirus is no worse than the flu and Americans who want tests can get them, should “step back” from a public response to the virus.

“It is very important that health professionals be out front and that there be a consistent message,” Collins said, suggesting that the president appoint a public health official, such as Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, to lead messaging, and that the federal government hold daily briefings.

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Collins also raised concerns about the shortages in available testing for the virus. According to data from the federal Centers for Disease Control, just over 13,600 people in the U.S. had been tested for the virus as of Thursday. That puts the U.S. behind every other developed country in terms of the number of coronavirus tests administered per capita.

“Testing should be more available than it is,” Collins said, “and that was an issue that many of us raised yesterday at the federal briefing and we did not get a satisfactory response.”

Collins said she was encouraged by the emergence of privately developed tests over the last few days, which might yield quicker results than the test that the federal CDC developed. Asked why the CDC opted not to use a test from the World Health Organization, Collins said she did not know.

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The Senate will reconvene next week after canceling a planned recess, something Collins had called for in order to address the outbreak. The Maine senator said she expects the upper chamber to consider a stimulus package, as well as a proposal to create emergency unemployment insurance under an existing federal disaster relief act.

Collins also said she was encouraged by the state of Maine’s response to the virus, praising Gov. Janet Mills’ decision to require insurers to cover coronavirus testing and hospitals’ efforts to prepare for the outbreak.

“The cooperation among Maine’s health care providers is truly impressive as they proceed to cope with this new threat to public health,” she said.

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