News: Public Health

All About Coronavirus

Friday, January 31, 2020  
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While local health departments ramp up their preparedness inresponse tothe spread ofthe novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), officials in DC, Atlanta, and around the globe have been busy working toaddress the spread of the illness. Here is a rundown of government affairs-related updates:


This week the White House announced the establishment of a new Coronavirus Task Force, led by HHS Secretary Azar. The task force is being coordinated through the National Security Council and includes CDC Director Robert Redfield,Director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious DiseasesAnthonyFauciand White House Domestic Policy Council chief Joe Grogan.


The State Department along with the CDC have updated atravel warningto avoid all non-essential travel to the entire mainland of China following the 2019-nCoV outbreak. Last week the travel warning was issued to only the Wuhan region of China.Chinese health officials have reported thousands of 2019-nCoV cases in China, as well as severe illness including deaths. Sustained person-to-person community spread with this virus is reportedly occurring in China. The State Department has raised its travel advisory from level 2 to level 3 and recommended people reconsider travel to the country.


U.S. health officials say the general risk to the American public is low at this time as CDC continues to monitor the outbreak, and on Tuesday, HHSSecretary Alex Azarstopped short of declaring a public health emergency. However, federal officials have extended surveillance from five to 20 airports for screenings of passengers entering the US from the Wuhan region and U.S. public health officials will travel to China as part of a WHO mission.Secretary Azar alsonotified Congress on January 25 of plans to tap into the infectious disease rapid response fund, which lawmakers increased in FY2020 to $85 million. The CDC will submit a spending plan to Congresswithin15 daysof thenotification. Funding will go toward "immediate planning and response needs, including surge support for ports of entry, enhanced laboratory capacity, communication/education efforts, and CDC technical assistance," according to HHS.


On Thursday, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared outbreak a public health emergency of international concern, while Illinois health officials confirmed that a case in that state resulted from human-to-human transmission from a woman who had traveled toWujan, China to her husband.




Congress is also ramping up its activities related to the illness. Both Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and House Labor-Health and Human Services (HHS) Subcommittee Ranking Member Tom Cole (R-OK) have indicated that an emergency supplementalfundingbill may be needed to respond to the outbreak, but no further movement has yet been seen.


Meanwhile, Senator Markey (D-MA) hassent a letterto the White House requesting the appointment of a global public health expert, or coronavirus Czar, to the National Security Council in light of the threat posed by the virus.And next week, the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee will hold itsfirst public hearing onnCoV. Witnesses are expected to be federal agency directors, CDC Director Robert Redfield, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease Director AnthonyFauci,and Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Dr. Robert Kadlec. NACCHO will provide more information on this hearing in next week's News from Washington.




Funding—including the impact of chronic underfunding of our nation's public health infrastructure and workforce—has also been on the mind of the DC media. On Thursday, the Hill newspaper published an article entitled, "Coronavirus poses new test for strained public health system," quoting NACCHO's own Adriane Casalotti talking about the impact of budget cuts on the LHD workforce.

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