WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Bill Cassidy, M.D. and Tom Carper (D-DE) led a bipartisan letter with 16 total senators to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urging the agency to build on its existing reportable disease framework to trace novel coronavirus infections to determine and log who has developed antibodies to novel coronavirus and track who may be immune. This is a bipartisan approach to safely reopening the economy.
Coronavirus is a reportable disease, meaning that infections are already reported to a public health authority. States and territories also track vaccination information for a variety of other diseases. The CDC, states and territories also share an influenza surveillance system. The senators’ letter calls for building upon those reporting requirements to improve surveillance of the virus’ spread, facilitate contact tracing, increase data collection to improve our understanding of the virus and help determine who might be immune to the virus.
Like all other reportable diseases, coronavirus results will be compliant with all privacy laws.
“Building out existing capabilities to understand who may have gained some level of immunity to nCV does not represent a new or enhanced risk to privacy. Instead, with improved access to testing, these systems may benefit from a rapid increase in voluntarily shared personal health data. These systems are already relied upon for their effectiveness and efficiency and could be important tools for responding to this virus, when paired with work to ensure that both public and private labs are accurately reporting and sharing data as quickly as possible,” wrote the senators.
The senators’ long-term vision for improving the CDC framework for collecting coronavirus test results and other relevant data is to use it to help determine who may be able to safely leave lockdown and return to work. Though not yet proven for COVID-19, science suggests that in many cases, once someone is infected with a virus, they build some degree of immunity to that virus for a period of time. Allowing these people to return to work can begin to help reopen the economy with as much data as possible.
“This type of information is critical to protect patients, workers and higher risk populations (such as those who are older or those with co- morbidities). Employment and social interaction rules can be dynamically adjusted to benefit the employee, workplace productivity, public health and stability, while containing the spread of disease,” wrote the senators. “To expeditiously begin this process, existing capabilities at HHS and the CDC should be expanded and used, while states and territories build up their own detection and surveillance infrastructure. These systems are governed by robust privacy laws. We urge you to build on the CDC and states existing systems so that this work can be completed as quickly and efficiently as possible. To begin to restore our economy, we the undersigned believe this work must begin now.”
Read the letter here.
Senators joining Cassidy and Carper in the letter include: John Cornyn (R-TX), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), James Lankford (R-OK), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Chris Coons (D-DE), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Kelly Loeffler (R-GA), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), Michael Rounds (R-SD), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Gary Peters (D-MI).
U.S. Representatives Brad Wenstrup (R-OH), Donna Shalala (D-FL), Phil Roe (R-TN), and Bill Foster (D-IL) are leading a similar letter in the House.