March 4, 2020

Update on Coronavirus Response - Phase I


KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • The federal government continues to respond to the coronavirus, named COVID-19 by the World Health Organization.  
  • Congress is providing $7.8 billion in supplemental funding to target research and development of vaccines and treatments, health system preparedness, support state and local public health departments; and to strengthen the national stockpile of medical supplies.  
  • This paper updates the report RPC published on February 13: Responding to Coronavirus. 

The novel coronavirus, officially named COVID-19, was first identified in Wuhan, China, and reported to the World Health Organization on December 31, 2019. On January 31, the administration declared the outbreak a public health emergency. This determination allows the federal government to use supplemental resources and deploy public health experts and medical providers to assist in response efforts.

On February 26, President Trump appointed Vice President Pence to head the federal response to the outbreak. The next day, the White House named Deborah Birx to serve as the White House coronavirus response coordinator. Ambassador Birx is a scientist and physician with three decades of public health expertise, including infectious diseases, vaccine development, and interagency coordination. She led one of the most influential HIV vaccine trials in history and helped lead global implementation of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief program under Presidents Obama and Trump.

latest Response by federal Agencies

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has distributed diagnostic kits to state and local public health laboratories to diagnose COVID-19 patients in the United States. The Food and Drug Administration granted an emergency use authorization to allow more labs to test samples and identify potential cases more quickly. On March 2, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn said he expects private manufactures soon to provide “a substantial increase” in the number of tests being processed across the country.

CDC also launched a website with tips on how to prevent the spread of the disease at home, in our schools and workplaces, and throughout our communities. Along with FDA, the CDC took steps to make protective masks more available to health care workers. They can now use respirators that have been approved for other types of work, such as construction, even though they were not specifically approved for medical use.

The Senate HELP committee held a hearing on March 3 to discuss the U.S. response to COVID-19. At the hearing, federal public health officials responded to senators’ questions on the government’s response and specific actions that have been taken to contain the virus. The Commerce Committee held a hearing on March 4 to examine the role of global aviation in containing the spread of infectious disease. The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on March 5 to discuss the federal interagency response to the coronavirus and preparing for future global pandemics.

providing the resources to fight CORONAVIRUS

On February 24, the Office of Management and Budget requested Congress provide supplemental funding and transfer authorities to respond to coronavirus. On Wednesday, March 4, the House passed the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act by a vote of 415-2. The Senate may vote on the emergency funding package this week. The bill provides supplemental funding in the following areas, totaling $7.8 billion in discretionary funding:

  • $2.2 billion for the CDC: The Infectious Disease Rapid Response Reserve Fund receives $300 million, restoring funding that was initially used to respond to the coronavirus outbreak and ensuring additional funds are available if needed. At least $950 million for state and local public health preparedness grants, with half of that funding being provided to the grantees – states, cities, and tribes – within 30 days after enactment. States will receive no less than $4.5 million each to prepare for and respond to COVID-19.

  • $3.4 billion for the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund: This funds activities under the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response at the Department of Health and Human Services, which includes the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority and Strategic National Stockpile. This flexible funding will assist in procurement of medical supplies for federal and state response efforts; vaccine, therapeutics, and diagnostics research and development; and hospital and health system preparedness. Specifically, $300 million will be available to assist the federal government in purchasing necessary vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics to help with the public health response to this virus. The federal government has a long history of purchasing vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics to prepare for and respond to potential threats and health emergencies at affordable prices without government intervention in price setting. This bill preserves current law with regard to federal programs and assistance to purchase vaccines that help make them affordable without allowing the federal government to set the price. It also maintains incentives for the private market to develop vaccines and therapeutics.  

  • $836 million for the National Institutes of Health: The majority of the funding to NIH, $826 million, will go to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to research necessary vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics. The National Institute on Environmental Health Sciences receives $10 million to train health care workers on prevention and reducing exposure to COVID-19.

  • $1.25 billion to the Department of State and USAID to lead the global health response to coronavirus: The global health community is actively fighting coronavirus and Ebola in the midst of a potentially severe influenza season. The supplemental funding will provide $200 million for the Emergency Reserve Fund for USAID to respond to emerging health threats that pose severe risks to human health and $300 million for humanitarian and health needs in affected areas. Additional funding is provided for State Department consular operations to assist with evacuation expenses and emergency preparedness of our embassies and consulates as well as funding for oversight of the spending.

  • $61 million to the FDA: The funds would remain available until expended and would be used to support development and review of countermeasures, therapeutics, and vaccines for the coronavirus. The funding will also be used to monitor and mitigate shortages to medical product supply chains.

  • $20 million for the Small Business Administration: This would allow the SBA to make low-interest economic injury disaster loans available to businesses harmed by the coronavirus outbreak.

The supplemental funding bill also includes a provision addressing telehealth requirements. It allows the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to waive certain requirements to ensure Medicare enrollees can receive care at home to avoid contracting the virus and to better allow health systems to mitigate transmission of this virus.

Issue Tags: Health Care, COVID-19