On That’s So Cincinnati Podcast, Portman Discusses His Efforts to Help Ohio During Coronavirus Pandemic

April 3, 2020 | Press Releases

Yesterday, on the podcast That's So Cincinnati with Jason Williams and Sharon Coolidge, Senator discussed his efforts to help Ohio during this coronavirus pandemic, including helping UC Health secure a cobas 6800 machine to run COVID diagnostic tests. This vital machine can conduct more than 1,000 diagnostic tests per day, dramatically increasing COVID-19 testing capacity in southwest Ohio.  

In addition, Portman highlighted his work in partnership WITH the Trump Administration to help Ohio-based company Cardinal Health successfully secure more than two million gowns for use as personal protection equipment (PPE) for donation to the Strategic National Stockpile. Portman also worked with the FDA and the Trump Administration and Governor DeWine to ensure Battelle could use their new technology, developed in Columbus, to sterilize and reuse N-95 masks. Finally, this week Portman has been working with U.S. Trade Representative Bob Lighthizer to provide tariff relief for Ohio-based company GOJO to ensure it can produce more Purell hand sanitizer for the public. 

Portman also highlighted the benefits of the bipartisan Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and explained that in order to restore our economic health, we must first accelerate the public health response, significantly expand our testing capability, and develop a credible system of metrics to measure success in combating the coronavirus.  

Excerpts of his interview can be found below and you can listen here.  

PORTMAN ON HELPING UC HEALTH OBTAIN NEW TESTING EQUIPMENT: 

“Well, we’re doing this around the state, trying to help companies, and in some cases, like Battelle in Columbus, a nonprofit, and some cases, the state, you know, free things up at the federal level. University of Cincinnati is looked to as the premiere academic hospital here in town and therefore leading on the testing, but until now they’ve only been able to test about 80 to 100 people a day, which is not nearly enough. We need more testing and unless you’re really sick in Cincinnati, it’s tough to get testing. So, I think that’s the key, frankly, to helping solve the health care crisis here because you need to be able to test and, you know, as they contact trace people. I just got off the phone with Dr. Fauci, who we’ve all gotten to know through his briefings, and he believes that too. We’ve got to have more testing. So UC contacted me about 10 days ago and said that they had a machine on order to be able to greatly expand their testing by more than 10 times and that it was a state-of-the-art machine and the company wasn't willing to send it, despite the contract they had. They were supposed to get it a couple weeks ago and they weren’t getting it. And so we got engaged and involved because the company was pointing the finger at the White House and at HHS, Health and Human Services Department, so we went to the White House. I spoke to the White House directly, but also worked with the Assistant Secretary at HHS who is responsible for this area and made our case. We need more testing in greater Cincinnati and, lo and behold, the machine is now on its way. It may arrive today, it may arrive tomorrow, it may arrive over the weekend, but UC’s ready for it immediately. The day before yesterday, when we got a decision that they would move ahead with it, they also sent their inspectors in, the company is called Roche, it’s a Swiss company. And it would be fantastic to have this machine. It not only is state-of-the-art in terms of its accuracy, which is important because you want to have the most accurate test possible, but it also is quick. So within eight or nine hours you should be able to get the results and it'll be working 24/7. So this is a nice accomplishment for our community because without more testing, Jason, I don't know how we ever can stop the spread.” 

PORTMAN ON WORKING WITH CARDINAL HEALTH AND BATTELLE TO CREATE AND DISTRIBUTE PPE: 

“All of this is important. The PPE, because the people who are testing you, you know, ought to have protective gear on. We’ve got to have the ventilators for people who end up in the hospital, and are really sick and need something to breathe for them. That's what the ventilator does, we’re working on all that. We've had some successes here in Ohio recently on that too in getting Cardinal Health to get to 2.2 million gowns out yesterday. There’s two companies in Ohio that want to make ventilators, we’re working on that with the White House. We got a bunch of masks to be recycled with Battelle, we got that approved about three days ago. So we're working on all that, but ultimately, I believe, Sherri, in case you get this testing going and that's where Dr. Fauci is. 

“I was working with Governor DeWine. He called me, actually, early Sunday morning and said, ‘I’m thinking of doing this, sending out this release. I’m mad at FDA for not approving Battelle to clean more than 10,000 masks a day,’ because that's what the approval is for. I think 160,000 a day with two machines, 80,000 each. So, of course I jumped in. I called the FDA. I called the White House and tried to be helpful. But honestly, it was a miscommunication in large part because the application was not clear and so it was kind of like one of these things where you kind of had to just cut through all the BS and find out what the real issue was and then say, ‘Okay you’ve approved the technology.’ I mean, if you’re approving 10,000 what can’t you approve, you know, a million? Much less 160,000. And they agreed and it got done. You know, the bureaucracy moves at a glacial pace under normal circumstances and sometimes there's reasons for that.   

PORTMAN ON WORKING WITH USTR TO HELP OHIO-BASED COMPANY GOJO PRODUCE MORE HAND SANITIZER: 

“Like at the FDA, you want things to be safe, right? We don’t want to have stuff on the shelves that’s going to harm us, but in a crisis like this as I told my staff this morning on our conference call, we have one every morning, first thing and go through all of our projects we’re working on all around the state, including implementing this federal law. I said this is like a wartime footing. None of the old rules apply here. So you’ve got to go right to the top and you know, I called the U.S. Trade Representative this morning, as an example, his name is Bob Lighthizer, because Purell, which is a company in Ohio, people don’t know that largely, but Purell hand sanitizer global leader is in Ohio. They’re having some trouble getting product in and they have a 25 percent tariff on some of the necessary product, so we’re trying to get that  waived so we can get more Purell on the shelves. And so you call him directly and he didn't know about it. Of course his staff has been working with our staff on it the last couple days, but yet sometimes have to go right to the top and he got it right away and said, ‘Look, I get it. We’re going to try and fix this thing,’ and I suspect we’ll fix that today I hope. If not today, in the next couple days. 

“Procter & Gamble as an example, by the way, is making some of this hand sanitizer in Ohio. So their Lima plant, as I understand it, I talked to their CEO this week about that, and we’re trying to help them to be sure they're getting through any hurdles that they have. They’re also doing some great things with facial masks. They’re using it for their own workforce, that can continue, but they’re also donating hundreds of thousands of those to people on the front lines. They’re also looking at other ways to help, I’m not sure they’ve announced it yet, but in addition to hand sanitizer and the masks so, they’re on it. I think they would like to look at everything, ventilators, face masks, and they just want to be sure that they are able to produce it and produce it in volumes and make sure that it’s something that’s needed so they’re looking partly to people like me to say 'help us find out from the feds what are the priorities here' and where they need to go, but I think it does help Ohio because Purell being in Ohio - by the way they’re creating a lot of jobs at Purell. They are 24/7. They’re expanding their capability as best they can and that is, you know, giving Ohioans, northeast Ohio particularly where they’re located, opportunities too. Chagrin Falls is where one of their big factories is and they're just going great guns. They’re producing all they possibly can and look, it’s a national crisis. I think Ohio has done the right thing in taking this very seriously. I commend Governor DeWine and his team for saying early on, ‘You know what? We're going to risk a major health care crisis here unless we take some tough steps now’ and those tough steps included closing down restaurants and bars, and telling people they can’t go to school and stuff that was not very popular. We were one of the first states to do those things, now almost every state is doing that, and I think that was necessary because unless you can get people into a situation where there is social distancing as they call it and staying at home and using the sanitizer and so on, it’s very difficult to get ahold of this thing and again testing is also critical. Because you can do all those things, and if you aren’t testing, you don’t know what the situation is, you don't know who's being exposed any maybe therefore exposing other people inadvertently. So, I think we did the right thing by being a little more proactive and thank goodness we got these great Ohio companies that are able to help on the PPE and help on the ventilators and help to ensure that the whole country is better off.” 

PORTMAN ON DONATING HIS SALARY TO HELP OHIOANS IMPACTED BY CORONAVIRUS CRISIS: 

“First of all, it’s a token amount and I just wanted to try to do something small to help, but mostly I did it because, to be honest with you, I was starting to hear from people, including friends of mine, who have lost their jobs. And they don’t have any paycheck coming in. They’ve lost their hourly wages or in some cases lost their salary. I know some small businesses that have shut down, particularly in the restaurant business and bars. They're just closed. They can't make it work with delivery and pick up. So a lot of people are suffering right now and I'm in a position to be able to do it, and I also did it because I wanted to hold up these nonprofits that are doing a great job. There's five of them around the state. The one in the Greater Cincinnati area that I chose was the Greater Cincinnati Foundation in conjunction with United Way COVID-19 fund. It’s helping to fund other nonprofits so I put all that information out there and said 'hey, here’s what I'm doing, here's the button to say donate to all of these groups, but look in your own community. Find out who you think is doing the best job.' They need help right now because they're kind of filling the gaps. People ask me about who’s taking care of these kids who aren’t getting their school lunches, well there’s money in the bill for that but it takes a while for all that to work so in the meantime, these nonprofits, the foodbanks are stepping up. You know, who is taking care of the homeless? They shouldn’t be out there without social distancing and all this as well, and, well, nonprofits are stepping in to do a lot of that. So there's a lot of instances where the nonprofit are filling the gap right now and yet they're seeing their contributions go a down as people are having a tough time. If you can, and many people can't, I get that, but if you can do a little more for others right now, doing it through a good nonprofit is a way to help wait for everybody to be involved.” 

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