Source: US Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs

Send in your ideas to help the Senate question federal officials about the US response to COVID-19

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The coronavirus has killed over 106,000 people, and infected millions, in the US alone. As some areas of the country begin to lift infection control precautions, it is critical for the US response to the COVID-19 pandemic to improve.

The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs is holding a hearing to question federal officials leading US efforts to procure and distribute medicines and supplies in response to the pandemic.

The Committee wants to hear your thoughts on the availability of COVID-19 tests and test components, medications, medical supplies like swabs and ventilators, personal protective equipment, hospital capacity, supply chains, and distribution plans for a potential vaccine, 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 Americans through the COVID-19 crisis.

Hearing details

Evaluating the federal government’s procurement and distribution strategies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic

What: Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing 

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

When: Tuesday, June 09, 2020 10:00am ET

Where: SD-562, Senate Dirksen 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. Kindly submit via the form below! Last updated Monday 6/8/2020.

In early April, stores of emergency gear, such as medical masks and ventilators, in the Strategic National Stockpile were nearly depleted. Healthcare workers in Washington State, for example, were unable to rely on the Stockpile for much-needed N95 respirators – personal protective equipment that is critical when treating patients with contagious and deadly respiratory illnesses like COVID-19.

How have deficiencies in the Stockpile’s inventory holdings been corrected, or how are they in the process of being corrected?

The Strategic National Stockpile is intended to serve as the nation’s supply of life-saving pharmaceuticals and medical supplies, and was managed by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR). In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, HHS ASPR integrated with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) National Response Coordination Center.

Why was responsibility for the Strategic National Stockpile transferred from HHS ASPR to FEMA in the middle of the pandemic? Was the transfer part of a pre-existing plan for pandemic response? Please explain any advantages or disadvantages in regard to responding to COVID-19 that have become apparent during or after the transfer of responsibility.

Despite improvements in some regions, the country as a whole is still averaging more than 20,000 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 per day.

In preparation for surges of COVID-19 infections, what mechanisms are in place to establish better, more accurate demand requirements for personal protective equipment and other critical medical supplies needed by US frontline health systems from the Strategic National Stockpile?

Last month, former presidential science advisors released a report “warning that the US has just three months to rebuild its national stockpile of emergency medical supplies or risk further drastic shortages of testing kits and protective gear should coronavirus strike again in the fall.”

Are you familiar with this report, and if so, what is your response?

Admiral Giroir, by the end of May, there were around 400,000 COVID-19 tests done per day in the US. Some public health experts believe that in order to safely reopen, as many as 900,000 daily tests may be needed.

The Administration is demobilizing you from your position as head of COVID-19 testing efforts in mid-June, and there are no plans for a successor to be assigned to the position.

Given that the COVID-19 testing supply chain still isn’t fully operational and US testing capacity still needs to be ramped up, what assurances can you and the Administration give that the critical testing needs facing the country will be met without a “testing czar?”

The Administration put the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in charge of coordinating the response of the US supply chain to COVID-19. What was the decision-making process behind FEMA taking on such a role? Is FEMA the federal agency best suited for this role? Please explain why or why not.

In May, the Federal Emergency Management Agency turned over the coordination of longer-term purchasing of COVID-19 supplies, including personal protective equipment, to the Defense Logistics Agency.

The Defense Logistics Agency, or DLA, is the supply chain manager for all Department of Defense entities with requisite demand management and ordering systems, global supply networks, and distribution assets in almost every state.

Could the DLA have been mobilized sooner, such as when federal procurement deficiencies forced states to bid against one another for scarce essential medical supplies, such as masks and ventilators, on world markets? Why or why not? What impact could an earlier DLA mobilization have had? Please explain.

The HHS Protect system was established as a data aggregation and analysis resource for CDC, FEMA, and others working to respond to COVID-19. However, the current system does not leverage predictive capabilities, and would also benefit from the integration of additional data generated throughout more federal government agencies, academia, and the private sector.

Will the HHS Protect system be upgraded along these lines? How do your agencies plan to continue to leverage data and innovative ways to improve response and preparedness to this and future outbreaks, as well as other health security threats? Please explain.

Clearly this pandemic has highlighted the issue of the dependability of supply chains for critical medical supplies – not only physical protective equipment for medical workers and responders, but a whole range of other essential items such as pharmaceuticals, pharmaceutical ingredients, glass for vaccine vials, and even saline solution.

We need assured access to these items – which might mean domestic manufacture, but doesn’t have to. Have your agencies, or will your agencies, be conducting analysis of health and medical supply chains to assess how the United States can assure access to those critical items it needs to have? If so, what have you found? What are the major areas for improvement?

Dr. Giroir, 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.

The FDA has granted emergency use authorizations for nearly 70 COVID-19 tests. While no test is perfect, some tests used to diagnose COVID-19 may be missing up to 20 percent of positive cases.

What is being done to ensure reliable COVID-19 case reporting and protect the American people from the consequences of unreliable test results?

Follow-up: Was there any pressure put on HHS officials in regard to the Abbot Labs ID NOW point-of-care test? If so, please describe.

Experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci have predicted a likely resurgence of COVID-19 in the fall. What testing supplies, personal protective equipment, medicines, and so on, need to be invested in right now in order for the US to be prepared? How should these supplies be staged? Please explain.

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

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 ground is most important for your agencies to make up in the near-term, and in the long-term? What can Congress do to support the work of your agencies?

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?

Your evidence-based question could be here!

Quick reads

COVID-19 and federal procurement contracts – Congressional Research Service Legal Sidebar

COVID-19: Defense Production Act developments and issues for Congress – CRS Insight

Domestic public health response to COVID-19 – CRS Insight

COVID-19 alternate care sites (ACSs): Role and activities of the US Army Corps of Engineers – CRS Insight

Digital contact tracing technology – CRS In Focus

COVID-19 testing – CRS In Focus, Government Accountability Office Science and Tech Spotlight

Analysis of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine – CRS Insight

COVID-19 vaccine development – GAO Science and Tech Spotlight

FDA regulation of personal protective equipment and ventilators – CRS In Focus

Novel Coronavirus 2019: Global Implications and Responses – CRS In Focus

Coronaviruses – GAO Science and Tech Spotlight

Primer on the World Health Organization – CRS In Focus

Deep dives

FAQ on COVID-19 Stafford Act disaster declarations – CRS Report

The US blood supply and COVID-19 response – CRS Report

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

Q&A on global implications and responses to COVID-19 – CRS Report

China COVID-19 medical supply chains – 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

Administration initially dispensed scarce COVID-19 drug to some hospitals that didn’t need it – Washington Post piece

Coronavirus testing machines are latest bottleneck in troubled supply chain – NPR piece

A closer look at federal COVID-19 contractors reveals inexperience, fraud accusations… – ProPublica piece

Federal purchases to respond to the coronavirus – ProPublica tracker

Progress toward COVID-19 drugs or vaccines – Washington Post piece

COVID-19 continues to disrupt prescription drug supplies – New York Times piece

COVID-19 antibody tests – Wall Street Journal piece

Congressional correspondence

Six Democratic Senators on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee request a hearing to examine the federal government’s response to COVID-19- letter

Senators Lankford (R, OK) and Sinema (D, AZ) call for the US federal government’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak to be examined by the Government Accountability Office – letter

Senator Peters (D, MI) calls on the Administration to ensure America is prepared to acquire, manufacture, and distribute the supplies needed to administer a Coronavirus vaccine – letter

Senators Warren (D, MA) and Van Hollen (D, MD) call for the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps to be used to the fullest extent in response to the COVID-19 pandemic – letter

Senator Harris (D, CA) calls for more transparency into the federal government’s distribution of remdesivir to hospitals and health systems – letter

Senator Shaheen (D, NH) calls for increase in the long-term domestic supply chain for personal protective equipment (PPE) in the US – letter

Bipartisan bills

Ensuring Access to COVID-19 Preventive Care Act of 2020, H.R.6231

Cure the Coronavirus Act, H.R.6019

Coronavirus Relief Fund Flexibility Act, S.3638

Coronavirus Community Relief Act, H.R.6467

Coronavirus Worker Relief Act, H.R.6207

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

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

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