Senate HELP Hearing – White House Coronavirus Task Force

Source: US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions

Help the Senate question White House Coronavirus Task Force members

Engage and take action!

If you have a question or idea you think lawmakers should raise with witnesses during this hearing, or you would like to be a part of FAS’ community of science and health experts, kindly scroll down and submit via the form below. Join our community and contribute your expertise and ideas, and help fight coronavirus with us.

Send in your ideas and questions about how the US is handling the COVID-19 novel coronavirus pandemic that Senators could raise with members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force

The COVID-19 novel coronavirus pandemic has devastated the United States, with over 1.2 million infections, more than 73,000 deaths, and 30 million job losses. 

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions is holding a hearing to scrutinize the US response to COVID-19.

The Committee wants to hear your thoughts on diagnostic tests, public health infrastructure, vaccine development, potential antivirals, or the medical supply chain, among other issues. 

This website gives you an opportunity to tell Congress what issues should be discussed during this critical hearing. You can submit questions that lawmakers should ask witnesses (sample questions below), personal stories about your experiences related to COVID-19 or other infectious diseases, or your general thoughts on how Congress can help keep Americans safe from the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Hearing details

COVID-19 Novel Coronavirus Preparedness and Response

What: Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions hearing

Who: The witnesses who will testify during this hearing are:

When: Tuesday, May 12, 2020 at 10:00am ET

Where: 106 Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington, DC / Webcast

Nonpartisan analysis and research

Sample questions for lawmakers to ask witnesses. Please share yours for lawmakers.

More sample questions will be added as objective contributions are received from the expert community. Submit via the form below, or email us at sciencepolicy@fas.org! Last updated Saturday 5/9/2020.

Dr. Redfield, White House officials recently rejected the guidance CDC submitted on safely reopening the economy. The guidance was developed by world-class public health experts at CDC. Their recommendations included such things as using disposable dishes and utensils at restaurants, closing every other row of seats in buses and subways, and encouraging all congregants to wear cloth face coverings when inside religious buildings.

A spokesperson for your agency said the guidance was still under discussion with the White House. When can we expect the revised guidance, and will it sacrifice public health for political considerations? Please explain why or why not.

Dr. Fauci, a recently renewed NIAID grant studying how coronaviruses transmit from bats to humans was terminated abruptly on April 24. A coronavirus expert who had been receiving research funding from the grant works at a laboratory in Wuhan, China.

It is unusual for grants to be discontinued in this manner. Why was the grant terminated? Please explain.

There are two main types of coronavirus tests. Viral tests are used to determine whether a person is currently infected with the coronavirus. Antibody tests are used to determine if a person had been infected with the coronavirus in the past.

What are your views on the quality of both types of tests that are currently being deployed, and what new testing technologies are you particularly excited about that you believe will contribute to countering this crisis?

Follow-up: Should antibody tests be used to decide when stay-at-home restrictions should be relaxed? For individuals, for communities? Why or why not?

Dr. Fauci, COVID-19 has hit the United States quite unevenly, geographically. Those areas with limited cases may be thinking that they cannot be impacted greatly, and that it is places like New York City with greater population densities, more tourists, and crowded mass transit systems that are at highest risk.

Are there any areas in the United States that, for these reasons or others, are likely to avoid devastating outbreaks? Or are there really only two kinds of areas in the United States: Those that have been slammed by COVID-19, and those that are going to be slammed by COVID-19 unless appropriate precautions are taken? Please explain.

The Administration’s “Operation Warp Speed” program has the goal of rapidly producing a vaccine that protects against the coronavirus. Is Operation Warp Speed funding any work to mitigate the risk of SARS-CoV-2 vaccines losing efficacy as a result of new emerging viral strains, which could lead to the virus becoming seasonal? Is Warp Speed mapping out viral epitopes that could cause antibody-dependent enhancement of infection and prioritizing vaccine designs with low-risk epitopes?

Follow-up: Could Warp Speed run Phase III trials faster by using population-level statistics, i.e. identifying an effective vaccine through a shift in the dynamics of local spread, as has been proposed in the UK? Is Warp Speed going to run human challenge trials?

Testing to determine both 1) who has COVID-19 and 2) how many people have at any point had COVID-19 are critical. What is the theoretical upper limit for daily testing in the US – 300,000 per day – 1 million per day – more? And is there a federal plan to implement widespread testing of the US population, or even large groups in specific geographic regions? If so, what is it, and are we capable of executing it?

Follow-up: Will the tests be for antibodies to SARS-CoV-2, RT-PCR of viral RNA, or both? And how will the results influence decisions to reopen our country?

It has been proposed that antibody testing may enable those who have been infected and recovered to “re-enter society” upon a positive antibody test. However, currently available antibody tests are notoriously unreliable. Even if tests were 100% accurate, operating under this model would seem to incentivize receiving a positive antibody test, perhaps dis-incentivizing physical distancing, and it could even split Americans into groups with greater and fewer rights.

Is there really a way to use antibody testing to inform when society should be reopened, and if so, which sub-populations should be allowed to re-enter society, and when? Or should this idea be ruled out?

Dr. Fauci, given your predictions of likely resurgence of COVID-19 in the fall, what will it take to flatten that curve without closing schools or places of business? What are the practical needs in terms of testing supplies, PPE stockpiles, contact tracing capacities, and so on, that need to be invested in right now to make that possible?

Follow-up: What are the metrics for tracking this effort, and what benchmarks need to be met?

Infectious disease and public health experts have been warning for decades that more resources are needed to protect against biological threats. Now we see the consequences of that lack of investment. Will this pandemic change the amount of funds your agencies request every year toward the goal of mitigating infectious diseases? Why or why not?

The delay in this Administration’s actions to address the coronavirus pandemic, as well as its inaccurate, misleading messaging, has undoubtedly contributed to this crisis. What are you and your agencies doing to get accurate public health information to the people of this country? What barriers do you face?

One of the main functions of the federal government is to provide for the security of its citizens. In the face of the coronavirus pandemic, the Administration has not performed well. For example, public health often had to compete with economic and political considerations in internal debates, which slowed the path toward belated decisions to seek more money from Congress, obtain necessary supplies, and address shortfalls in testing.

As some of the White House’s efforts have been counterproductive, what strategies have you and your agencies employed to do everything that you can to help the American people? What can Congress do to support your work?

Many pharmaceutical companies are making large investments to combat COVID-19. While drug cost reform is important, so is innovation, and companies need to earn revenue to keep their research and development engines churning.

What approaches do you think are best for determining coronavirus pandemic drug pricing? For example, could independent, nonpartisan groups be tasked with developing a fair pricing model?

There are not uniform reporting requirements for coronavirus tests administered, positive cases, hospitalizations, or deaths across the nation. The US should be a leader in testing per capita, and should be transparent about results. What should be done to make this a reality? What are the consequences if we do not?

It is imperative to quickly produce a safe vaccine against coronavirus. Is it possible that modern proteomics technologies could be used to detect autoantibodies in pre-clinical models or in patients in clinical trials, to safeguard against adverse autoimmune effects, reducing the need to run a long trial while potentially increasing safety?

Follow-up: Is it true that cost of manufacturing nucleic acid vaccines could be reduced hundredfold by using potent vector-encoded adjuvants?

To distribute a potential coronavirus vaccine, we will need to dramatically ramp up production of syringes and needles. Has the reported US lack of capacity for producing enough syringes and needles for vaccination been addressed?

Dr. Fauci, the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020 calls for NIH to develop a strategy for increasing its investment in platform technologies, and to consult with the research community to identify high-impact opportunities.  What are the specific steps has NIH taken or plans to take to respond to Congressional interest in this topic?

Hospital workers need more personal protective equipment (PPE), and the nation needs to conduct much more testing in order to gain more information about the spread of COVID-19. About 230,000 tests are being conducted per day nationwide, far below the millions of tests per day some experts believe are necessary.

What are your agencies doing to make PPE available, and to increase the level of testing in the US?

A recent report by the inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services says that hundreds of hospitals continue to struggle with widespread shortages of test kits, protective gear for staff members, and ventilators. There is a detrimental lack of coordination between the federal government and state and local authorities when it comes to procuring these critical supplies.

What is being done to rectify these issues, and how can your agencies use your influence or otherwise be part of the solution? Specifically for test kits, what are your agencies doing to make them accessible?

A recent clinical trial showed that remdesivir “shortened the time it took a hospitalized COVID-19 patient to recover” by about 30 percent. The company that developed the drug, Gilead, pledged 140,000 treatment courses ready for distribution this month. The company has ramped up its production and aims to have another 360,000 courses ready by October, and another 1 million ready by year’s end.

Should this number of treatment courses be increased, and if so, how could that be done? Is there a role for government to help manage the supply chain and manufacturing so we have a national and global supply of remdesivir?

Follow-up: The company pledged to donate these 1.5 million treatment courses. How should the company go about pricing remdesivir?

From your perspectives, has the COVID-19 pandemic revealed any gaps in disease modeling capabilities, and are additional federal investments in research and development necessary in this area? Why or why not?

There have been outbreaks of COVID-19 at workplaces like meatpacking plants and supply warehouses. What do you see as the balance between protecting the health of essential workers and keeping critical supply chains flowing, such as the food supply, or the provision of personal protective equipment? What specifically are your agencies doing to relieve health impacts on essential workers?

Hospitals are reporting shortages of drugs that are used to help patients on mechanical ventilators, control secondary lung infections, reduce fevers, manage pain, and resuscitate those who go into cardiac arrest.

Are your agencies contributing to alleviating supply chain disruptions for critical drugs required to treat COVID-19 patients? How? What should be done to ensure needed drugs are getting to hospitals to treat COVID-19 patients?

Given projections of the duration of this pandemic before effective treatments or vaccines are ready to be administered to large portions of society – 12 to 18 months from now – the economic and psychological toll of our mitigation strategy will continue to be significant. However, if we fail to adequately test, trace, and isolate, relaxing restrictions will result in more morbidity and mortality which will further promote anxiety, fear, uncertainty, and even anger. This too would likely have significant impacts on the economy.

Are there personal protective equipment measures that we can put in place, for example, supplying Americans with N95-grade masks (after ensuring frontline healthcare workers are adequately protected), until a highly effective pharmaceutical intervention is available? Or are we facing cycles of outbreaks, hardship, stay-at-home orders, and relaxing restrictions until people receive vaccines? What is your realistic assessment?

Dr. Fauci, what are the key bottlenecks for developing a COVID-19 vaccine that is ready for wide-scale distribution? Is there a way to expedite the vaccine development process and quickly conduct clinical trials to test candidate vaccines for safety and efficacy? And how quickly can we manufacture enough doses to protect the American people and our friends and allies?

Follow-up: Knowing that a vaccine is still more than a year away, are there any antivirals that are especially promising?

The US is about 12 to 18 months away from a vaccine that could be used to help with the COVID-19 epidemic. Then, the vaccine needs to be given to Americans.

Once a successful COVID-19 vaccine is developed, what is the plan for mass production and distribution among the population? How will distribution of the vaccine be prioritized?

Public health experts and researchers have consistently recommended that the US dedicate more resources to infectious disease preparedness and response.

Had we known that COVID-19 was coming, what should have we done 3 years ago to prepare for it? How does that inform what we should be doing going forward to protect not only against this health crisis, but also against potentially catastrophic biological events that we may encounter in the future?

There have been inconsistencies in statements regarding the COVID-19 outbreak from the White House and US health officials. The American people deserve clear, accurate information from our government.

What information has your organization provided to senior-level leadership at the White House on COVID-19, and how do you intend to maintain public trust as we move forward?

Leveraging public-private partnerships will be critical to minimizing the impacts of the COVID-19 virus outbreak. Both NIH and BARDA are partnering with biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies.

Have there been any challenges in forming these partnerships? What could be done to improve the process?

The coronavirus pandemic will become more manageable once there is an extremely effective treatment or a vaccine that people can access. And there are a number of options for speeding innovation. Do you think that it is necessary to revisit existing intellectual property rules by, for example, enacting a mandatory licensing regime for health care related patents to accelerate the development of COVID-19 treatments and vaccines? Why or why not?

Drs. Redfield and Fauci, people are going to want to visit beaches and other vacation spots this summer. What kinds of measures – short of re-closing everything – should be taken this summer to keep people safe, keeping infections and deaths down? What resources are needed to accomplish that?

Your evidence-based question could be here!

Quick reads

How prepared are we for a pandemic? – Government Accountability Office WatchBlog

Novel Coronavirus 2019: Global Implications and Responses – Congressional Research Service In Focus

Coronaviruses – GAO Science and Tech Spotlight

US faces long-standing challenges related to defending against biological threats – GAO Highlights

Capabilities and challenges of technologies to enable rapid diagnoses of infectious diseases – GAO Highlights

Presidential authority to mobilize US industry to mitigate coronavirus – CRS Insight

COVID-19: Current Travel Restrictions and Quarantine Measures – CRS Legal Sidebar

Primer on the World Health Organization – CRS In Focus

Deep dives

Overview of US Domestic Response to the COVID-19 Novel Coronavirus – CRS Report

Additional Efforts Would Enhance Likelihood of Effective Implementation of US National Biodefense Strategy – GAO Report

US faces long-standing challenges related to defending against biological threats – GAO Report

Capabilities and challenges of technologies to enable rapid diagnoses of infectious diseases – GAO Report

Exploring Lessons Learned from a Century of Outbreaks: Readiness for 2030 – National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine Report

Global Health Risk Framework: Resilient and Sustainable Health Systems to Respond to Global Infectious Disease Outbreaks – NASEM Report

Resources

Press clips

Looking at the COVID-19 novel coronavirus outbreak as everyone’s problem – The Atlantic piece

Visualization of modeling COVID-19 spread – Washington Post piece

The new coronavirus is a mirror that reflects how a society works, and where it fails – The Atlantic piece

The coronavirus outbreak is a huge wakeup call, interview with NTI’s Dr. Beth Cameron – Vox piece

The next plague is coming. Is America ready? – The Atlantic piece

Coronavirus outbreak a major test of China’s system – Wall Street Journal piece

How to prepare for a coronavirus pandemic – Foreign Affairs piece

Washington Post Coronavirus Live Updates

Wall Street Journal Coronavirus Live Updates

Congressional correspondence

Letter from a bipartisan group of Members of Congress to the Centers for Disease Control about the dissemination of novel coronavirus diagnostic tools to state and local jurisdictions

Letter from Senator Cotton (R, AK) to Department of Health and Human Services regarding information sharing with China

Letter from 31 Democratic Senators to Department of Health and Human Services regarding the US response to the novel coronavirus outbreak

Letter from Senator Hawley (R, MO) asking the Trump Administration about US-China travel restrictions

Letter from Senator Markey (D, MA) to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases about novel coronavirus vaccine development efforts

Bipartisan bills

2020 Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, H.R.6074

Cure the Coronavirus Act, H.R.6019

Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness and Advancing Innovation Act of 2019, S.1379

Health Care Workforce Protection Act of 2019, H.R.4982

National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza Update Act, H.R.5730

Engage and take action!

Contribute your nonpartisan, objective statements and questions. We will collate your submissions and post them here – anonymously – as part of this resource for policymakers. Submit via the form above, or to sciencepolicy@fas.org!