Viewpoint: How to Improve U.S. Dismal COVID-19 Response

Article

Former President Trump’s Presidential Federal Advisory Committee for COVID-19 needs to be reestablished under President Biden.

The United States Senate HELP Committee will hold a hearing tomorrow to officially begin the process of formulating legislation to strengthen our pandemic preparation and response. As a first step the committee will examine lessons learned from COVID-19. The committee took the unusual step of requesting written public comment and posting both an outline and working draft of the proposed legislation.

The legislative outline describes the formulation of a bipartisan Task Force to examine the emergence of SARS-CoV-2, and the United States’ Preparation

Kevin Kavanagh, MD

Kevin Kavanagh, MD

and Response to COVID-19. In addition, there are provisions regarding the functioning of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and appointment of the CDC Director. There are provisions to improve local, state, and federal public health responses, along with addressing social disparities. Further provisions are designed to improve and modernize biosurveillance, data reporting, sharing and dissemination, and to accelerate research development of counter measures. The national strategic stockpile and supply chain are addressed. Finally, there are provisions to modernizing clinical trials and streamlining drug and vaccine development and review.

All of these provisions focus on acronyms of the CDC, FDA, BARDA, ASPR, NIAID and the GAO. What is missing is OSHA and frontline worker protection, this includes infection preventionists. This was the focus of the written public comment submitted by Health Watch USA (of which the author is the founder and president). A new Title (Title VI) was proposed which would address frontline worker safety:

  • Regarding worker safety and the role of OSHA in pandemic preparation and response: A clear need for this is documented in pictures and videos on October 4, 2020 when a policeman holding back crowds and a secret service agent in a car with the president were wearing masks with exhalation valves. Occupational standards which allow guards of public officials to wear masks which allow spread between the wearer and others is a national security risk.
  • The responsibilities of OSHA need to be clearly outlined to enable the formulation of standards to protect workers and patrons of retail establishments and healthcare facilities.
  • In addition, this new Title needs to also address Federal support for sick leave, disability and death benefits for frontline workers who are placing themselves at risk during a pandemic emergency when effective therapeutics are not widely available.
  • Finally, there should be provisions regarding harassment and threats by the public towards healthcare workers.

This comment also called for augmenting the CDC’s authority to investigate outbreaks in consultation with local and state health departments. And to eliminate outside conflicts of interest created by non-governmental sources of CDC funding (i.e., CDC Foundation).

Previously on January 15, 2022, a letter was sent by Health Watch USA, the Massachusetts Nurses Association, and National Nurses United to the White House and faxed to Senator Mitch McConnell’s and Senator Chuck Schumer’s(9) offices, requesting that an independent Presidential Federal Advisory Committee for COVID-19 be reestablished under the Biden Administration.

The United States’ COVID-19 response is among the worst of highly developed nations. We can and need to do better. I feel the above will provide an outline for the U.S. to embark in a new direction and achieve optimal pandemic preparedness and response.

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