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Essential workers and consumers alike have found COVID-19 self-test kits scarce as the Omicron variant continues to boost infection rates nationwide.

FMI, NGA back COVID test priority for ‘critical infrastructure’ workers

Letters to Biden, governors warn of supply chain disruption amid Omicron surge

FMI-The Food Industry Association (FMI) and the National Grocers Association (NGA) were among more than 30 industry associations calling on President Joe Biden and the National Governors Association to prioritize critical infrastructure workers for COVID-19 testing.

In letters sent yesterday to Biden and presidential counselor Jeffrey Zients and to Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, the trade groups expressed concern about supply chain interruption from the proliferating Omicron variant of the virus. As a result, the White House and the nation’s governors must ensure that critical industry workers have ready access to COVID testing services and test kits to keep critical goods and services flowing, the organizations said.

“It is becoming increasingly clear that the spread of Omicron poses the challenge of rapid disruption to America’s critical supply infrastructure sectors. These sectors and the industries they represent depend on essential workers, all of whom contribute to ensure the health, safety and well-being of Americans every day,” the trade group’s letter to Biden stated. “Critical for sustaining this supply chain is the availably of accurate, readily available testing supplies to slow the spread of COVID-19, in accordance with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The undersigned organizations urge your administration to accelerate efforts to ensure test kit and supply availability and recognize the essential role of the industries represented below, by taking steps that would prioritize testing availability and access to tests for our nation’s critical infrastructure.”

The call to action was made under the auspices of the Critical Infrastructure Supply Chain Council (CISCC), an inter-industry coalition formed in May 2020 by the Consumer Brands Association (CBA) to address supply chain issues triggered by the pandemic.

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FMI, NGA and other members of the Critical Infrastructure Supply Chain Council urged broader availability of COVID testing services and kits for food industry and other critical infrastructure workers.

Besides FMI, NGA and CBA, groups signing the letters included the Agriculture Retailers Association, American Bakers Association, Consumer Healthcare Products Association, Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, National Restaurant Association and North American Meat Institute, among others.

“Over the past year, FMI has regularly been in communication with the Biden administration to ensure they understand the challenges facing the food industry to keep American families fed and our workers on the job. By joining our fellow CISCC members in sending these letters today to President Biden and the National Governors Association, we once again express our support for policies to increase the supply of and access to COVID-19 tests for businesses vital to everyday life, like grocery stores,” FMI said in a statement late Wednesday. “We look forward to continuing to work with government stakeholders across the nation as well as our industry partners to ensure sufficient numbers of COVID-19 tests are available so that our member companies can continue doing what they do best: providing their customers with the foods and household goods they need to keep their families fed and healthy.”

Representing the independent grocery sector, NGA noted that many of its members have reported operating stores with less than 50% of their normal workforce.

“NGA members have been open and operating since day one of this pandemic and have worked diligently to make sure their shelves remain stocked and Americans are fed. The nationwide labor shortage continues to strain critical industries, including grocery and the food industry at large,” NGA said in a statement on Thursday.

“Our members continue to encourage employees to get vaccinated. However, the prevalence of the Omicron variant in both vaccinated and unvaccinated populations, coupled with the lack of available testing resources, has further contributed to these staffing challenges,” the association explained. “Grocery and other essential industries are requesting prioritization of testing supplies from both federal and state governments so that our ‘supermarket superheroes’ can continue to work and communities across the country are not impacted by significant workforce disruptions.”

In March 2020, FMI applauded a decision by the federal Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) to classify food and agriculture and transportation and logistics as “essential, critical infrastructure” in the nation’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. CISA named 16 business sectors whose workers are considered vital to the functioning of critical U.S. infrastructure during times of crisis, namely the spread of coronavirus nationwide and resulting shutdown of large portions of the economy and communities across the country.

“We are encouraged by efforts already under way at the state and federal levels to distribute testing supplies. Nevertheless, we know from the earliest days of the pandemic that the prioritization of testing supplies for essential workers is critical to preserving the functionality of the supply chain, upon which we all rely,” the CISCC associations said in the letter to governors. “We are grateful for your attention to this need and your continued strong leadership and dedication to combatting the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.”

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