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Bera Urges Administration to Develop National Testing Strategy

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Ami Bera, M.D. (D-CA), Congressman Bill Foster (D-IL), and Congresswoman Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA) today sent a letter to Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar urging the Trump Administration to prioritize the creation of a national testing strategy to address shortfalls in COVID-testing.

“As a doctor, I strongly urge the Administration to prioritize the creation of a national testing strategy, including the rapid and widespread deployment of serologic and diagnostic testing, ” said Rep. Bera “Only with a national testing strategy will we be able to help states and communities identify who is infected and who may be immune, which will allow our country to soon get back on a road to economic recovery. An effective national testing strategy will also require a trained and dedicated personnel to implement it. I encourage the Administration to establish a public health workforce that would be used to conduct widespread contact tracing and to administer vaccines when available.”

Rep. Foster said: “It’s crucial that we create and execute an effective national testing strategy that includes both rapid diagnostic and serologic testing. When our communities begin to recover from this pandemic and we are ready to restart our economy, it will be essential that people have the peace-of-mind that antibody testing can provide so they can confidently reenter the workforce. As antibody testing becomes widely available, it is imperative that we have a national plan in place to prioritize antibody testing of medical workers, first responders, and those most at risk from COVID-19.  At the same time we must employ rapid diagnostic testing so we can quickly identify COVID-19 clusters and take swift measures to protect communities. The federal government should immediately begin working with state and local public health officials to deploy the resources and manpower needed to carry out a comprehensive testing strategy. This must be followed by the ability for individuals to reliably certify that they are immune to COVID-19 so that they can return to normal life – especially for workers in critical industries like healthcare and food.”

“The way through this crisis is through a coordinated, national testing strategy that includes both serologic and diagnostic testing,” said Rep. Houlahan. “The key to enacting this strategy is a pipeline of qualified personnel able to implement it. I am calling on the Administration to enact this strategy and to develop a public health emergency task force that will be entrusted with carrying out these measures. We don’t have days to take action. We don’t have hours to take action. We need to act swiftly, now and deliberately. I’m proud to join my colleagues, Representatives Bera and Foster in this call to action. I will do everything I can to protect my community and Commonwealth and all Americans across the country.”

A copy of the letter is available here and pasted below.

Rep. Bera led a bi-partisan letter to HHS urging the Administration to rapidly deploy COVID-19 antibody testing. He also penned a bipartisan op-ed encouraging the U.S. to establish a COVID-19 Response Corps (CRC) with a trained, deployable workforce to address the urgent needs of the national COVID-19 response.

Rep. Bera has been a leader in Congress on global health security. He chaired the first congressional hearing on the coronavirus on Feb. 5th, sounded the alarm after the Trump Administration disbanded the global health security office in the National Security Council in 2018, and is a member on the CSIS Commission on Strengthening America’s Health Security, which in November 2019 made a series of recommendations to prevent pandemics.

April 8, 2020 

The Honorable Alex M. Azar II

Secretary

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

200 Independence Ave. SW

Washington, DC 20201 

Dear Secretary Azar, 

We are writing you today to urge you to prioritize the creation and execution of a national testing strategy to address the widespread shortfalls in COVID-19 testing across the United States. Without more testing, our communities will not be able to unwind the dramatic social distancing measures that have been put in place to prevent the spread of coronavirus. This testing strategy will be critical as we move forward to the next phases of defeating this pandemic.

This testing strategy should prioritize both rapid and widespread diagnostic and serologic testing, and it should guide the specific and tailored approaches our states and communities are taking to tackle the virus. Serologic testing is key to understanding how widespread the virus is in the United States. It promises to allow public health officials to determine who’s had coronavirus, who is immune, and for how long. But there is a lot we do not know about this immunity. For that reason, the administration needs to prioritize the development of serologic testing and immunity studies. Only when we have a firm understanding of this immunity will communities begin to safely unwind social distancing measures which are dramatically impacting our economy. 

Rapid diagnostic testing continues to be critical. It enables public health officials to understand how many have the disease and need medical care. Without more rapid diagnostic tests, our communities are flying blind, creating incredible uncertainty for our frontline healthcare workers and public health officials. Members of Congress continue to be deeply alarmed about the reports of testing shortfalls and testing supply availability. It is past time that the administration used every tool in its power to fix these problems.  

Going forward, as social distancing reduces the prevalence of the virus in our communities, we know that clusters of infection will continue to occur. Widespread diagnostic testing, coupled with robust contact tracing, will enable public health officials to immediately identify and contain these clusters.   

But this national testing strategy will require dedicated personnel to implement it. The federal government will need to work with state and community public health officials to ensure they have the resources and manpower to conduct testing and contact tracing on such a widespread scale. National serological testing will need a large workforce to conduct widespread testing of Americans. Traditional serologic tests are relatively simple and safe to administer. In some states and communities, health care workers are stretched to the breaking point trying to stem the onslaught of coronavirus.  

For that reason, the administration should establish and utilize a reserve public health workforce composed of individuals like recently returned Peace Corps volunteers or members of AmeriCorps. These individuals could also be used to enact widespread contact tracing or vaccine administration as we continue our efforts to defeat this virus. 

We hope you will consider these recommendations. They are urgent and experts agree that they need to be implemented now. Without a national testing strategy to help communities identify who is infected and who may be immune, we will not be able to protect our health care systems, our fellow Americans, and return our country to its fully functioning, vibrant self. There’s no time to wait. 

Congress stands ready to assist the administration as it moves forward to enact these 
items. 
  
Sincerely, 

Ami Bera, M.D.

Member of Congress

Bill Foster

Member of Congress

Chrissy Houlahan

Member of Congress

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