ASM Urges Senate Support for Coordinated Efforts to Combat COVID-19

March 3, 2020

Statement from the American Society for Microbiology
in response to the
Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Hearing:
“An Emerging Disease Threat: How the U.S. is Responding to COVID-19, the Novel Coronavirus”
March 3, 2020

On behalf of our 30,000 members in the United States and around the world, the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) thanks Chairman Lamar Alexander, Ranking Member Patty Murray and members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee for holding this hearing on the response to the COVID-19 outbreak. ASM also thanks Congress for last year’s efforts to reauthorize the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness and Innovation Act, and for its support through fiscal year 2020 appropriations for public health preparedness and response programs that are crucial to address any public health emergency, especially an international outbreak.

We urge Congress to continue its commitment in fiscal year 2021 to a global health security agenda that recognizes and supports cutting edge research, laboratory capacity, pandemic preparedness and public health response capabilities. Likewise, we urge Congress to support without delay an emergency supplemental appropriations bill that provides necessary funds to address this ongoing threat, particularly as we do not yet know the trajectory and duration of this outbreak. The current coronavirus public health emergency illustrates exactly why sustained investments are needed across multiple government agencies, including the CDC, NIH, BARDA and the FDA; and it underscores the importance of maintaining open and transparent communication with the American public and with our international partners.

As the situation continues to unfold, we offer the following specific points to the Committee:
  • It is essential that officials communicate science-based, accurate information in full and in a timely manner to protect the public, mitigate spread of the disease and coordinate an effective international response. We are amidst an event that remains fluid and is changing on a daily, sometimes hourly basis. Consistent, timely communication is crucial.
  • Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) regulations should be updated to ensure timely responses in critical situations. We thank FDA leadership for implementing a new policy on February 29 that expands testing for COVID-19 to certain hospital laboratories in addition to public health laboratories. However, this situation brought to light current shortcomings of the EUA process and had the unintended consequence of erecting barriers to timely and accurate testing at the point of patient care.
  • The continued development of accurate and rapid diagnostics should be a priority. Diagnostics enable and inform all aspects of infectious disease outbreak management—from surveillance and detection to response, containment and recovery. Advances in diagnostic technologies, such as next generation sequencing made possible through CDC’s Advanced Molecular Detection program, will continue to be essential in our fight against both emerging and persistent infectious disease threats.
  • Funding for research to support vaccine and therapeutic development is essential. Investments in research funding through NIH have paved the way for the development of effective vaccines and therapeutics against many viral diseases. Continuing to fund research through NIAID is critical to address this novel virus and better prepare our country for a future outbreak.
  • Laboratories, which play a critical role in identifying outbreaks and guiding resources for response, should be strengthened. We are fortunate in the U.S. to have a robust laboratory surveillance system, supported through CDC, that can screen incoming travelers and identify—and potentially treat—individuals at high risk of spreading infection. This laboratory capacity does not exist in all countries and we must do more now to ensure its progress in low-resource countries, as well as ensure our network here in the U.S. is fully supported.
  • International scientific and public health collaboration is essential. ASM urges policymakers to ensure that an appropriate balance exists between protecting national security and allowing for continued, safe and legitimate collaboration across borders. Such a balance is necessary to preserve public health, the public interest and the advancement of science.
ASM and its members stand ready to assist the Committee, its members and Congress as the U.S. continues to respond to the novel coronavirus outbreak.

For more information from ASM on COVID-19, visit ASM's coronavirus resource page.  
The American Society for Microbiology is one of the largest professional societies dedicated to the life sciences and is composed of 30,000 scientists and health professionals. ASM's mission is to promote and advance the microbial sciences.

ASM advances the microbial sciences through conferences, publications, certifications and educational opportunities. It enhances laboratory capacity around the globe through training and resources. It provides a network for scientists in academia, industry and clinical settings. Additionally, ASM promotes a deeper understanding of the microbial sciences to diverse audiences.

Author: ASM Advocacy

ASM Advocacy
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