Washington, D.C. – This week the Energy and Commerce Committee heard from four key public health officials during an oversight hearing on the federal government’s COVID-19 response efforts. Members – participating both in-person and virtually – asked a range of questions on COVID-19 testing, treatments, and reopening the economy.
Witnesses included these officials who are each helping lead the government’s response efforts:
- Dr. Robert R. Redfield M.D., Director, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Dr. Anthony S. Fauci M.D., Director, National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
- Admiral Brett P. Giroir M.D., Assistant Secretary for Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
- Dr. Stephen M. Hahn M.D., Commissioner, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), U.S. Food and Drug Administration
It was clear that there were different agendas during the hearing:
E&C Republicans set out to learn the latest from these officials on testing, treatments, vaccines, and preparations for the fall, when COVID-19 and influenza cases may occur simultaneously. It was clear that many Democrats on the other side of the aisle had a very different agenda.
In a Fox Business interview, E&C GOP Leader Greg Walden (R-OR) highlighted how differently Republicans and Democrats handled the opportunity to hear from these public health officials for several hours.
“The Democrats spent their time just bashing the president and blaming others,” said Walden. “But what we tried to dig in on is are we going to be ready for the fall? Where are we with testing? Where are we with the vaccine and with treatments?”
Here are a few takeaways:
- President Trump did not instruct the witnesses to slow down COVID-19 testing
Walden: “Has President Trump ever directed you to slow down testing
for COVID-19 in the United States?”
The answer from each witness? No.
- We’re doing more COVID-19 testing – not less
Dr. Fauci: “I, as a member of the task force, and my colleagues on the task force, to my knowledge – I know for sure that to my knowledge none of us have ever been told to slow down on testing. That just is a fact. In fact, we will be doing more testing. As you’ve heard from Admiral Giroir, not only testing to specifically identify people in the identify, isolate, and contact trace, but also much more surveillance if you want to get your arms around and understand exactly what’s going on in community spread.
So it’s the opposite. We are going to be doing more testing, not less.”
- Admiral Giroir sets the record straight on testing sites
Admiral Giroir: “There are tens of thousands of testing sites. The only sites that we sunsetted, with the full agreement of the governors because I spoke to all of them, were 13 remaining sites, seven that were in Texas that were the 1.0 variety that were ready to go, because there were so many other sites around them. We matched each site to FQHCs surrounding them, to retail sites. So we are not withdrawing the support for well over 2,000 sites. We are just transitioning those 13.”
Dr. Fauci says opening schools should not be a one-size-fits all approach
Dr. Fauci: “I think the important thing to point out is that, as you well know, we live in a very big country that is certainly not a unidimensional country. It is very, very different whether you are in a New York metropolitan area or Casper, Wyoming. So, when you are asking about schools you have to say where are you talking about, because we have different regions, different states, different cities, towns, and counties. So, some counties may have such a low level of infection that schools can open in a way that’s exactly like normal. Others may be in a situation where it isn’t really bad where you want to close the school, but you might want to make some modifications, alterations of scheduling, things like morning/afternoon, one day or another day. So, it is up to the local officials to evaluate where you are in the particular region, what the recommendations that we really very carefully put out about the guidance of opening schools. So, you don’t want to make one-size-fits-all for the United States. You want to tailor it to the degree of viral dynamics in the particular location that you are talking about.”
- Innovative science showing promise in the fight against COVID-19
Walden: “What’s the status of the research into the effectiveness of convalescent plasma in fighting COVID-19? What do we know right now?”
Dr. Hahn: “A really important question from a therapeutics point of view. As everyone here knows, convalescent plasma is where you take the natural immunity from a person who has recovered from COVID-19 – those antibodies – and then administer to a person who is sick. So we have partnered with BARDA and HHS, as well as the Mayo Clinic, to develop what is called an expanded access program. We have safety data from over 20,000 patients that shows this is a very safe therapy, and our preliminary assessment of the effectiveness of this plasma is quite encouraging. We continue to look at the information. If those data hold, we will have potentially another weapon in the armamentarium against COVID-19, pending those final results.”