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BioCommunique Article

Dr. Fauci, Commissioner Hahn, and Robert Redfield spoke on reopening, testing, vaccines, contract tracing, and several additional topics.

Senate Health Committee Holds Hearing on Coronavirus Response

  • 2020-05-15T19:00:00.000+0000
  • Washington DC
  • Author: Brittany Blocker

On Tuesday, May 12th, four top U.S. health officials testified via video conference with the Senate Health , Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee on the COVID-19 pandemic and strategies on reopening the economy.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; Robert Redfield, Director of the Centers on Disease Control and Prevention; Commissioner Stephen Hahn of the Food and Drug Administration; and the Department of Health and Human Services’ Assistant Secretary for Health, Adm. Brett Giroir spoke before the committee to discuss safely reopening schools and workplaces amid the pandemic as states move to ease their shutdown restrictions.

Topics discussed in the hearing included: (1) Reopening; (2) Testing; (3) Vaccines; (4) Therapies; (5) Fatality Rates/Fall Outbreak; (6) Contact Tracing/Isolation; (7) Nursing Homes; (8) Immunity; (9) Medical Practices; (10) Essential Workplaces; (11) At-Risk Populations; (12) Personal Protective Equipment; and (13) Chinese CDC.

Here are the key takeaways from the hearing:

Reopening

Fauci noted the Administration developed a guideline framework with multiple checkpoints on reopening. These checkpoints are intended to facilitate reopening states and localities according to the unique outbreaks in their area. He explained that ignoring these checkpoints will trigger an outbreak and ultimately delay the timeline for returning to normal.

On reopening schools, Fauci said it is unlikely that treatments and vaccines will be widely available in time for the fall term. He also cautioned against relying on a vaccine to assuage the fears of returning students.

Testing. Giroir noted that the nation has performed more than 9 million COVID-19 tests. He explained the strategy on testing would depend on the level of community spread in a given area. The U.S. implemented a phased approach to meet testing needs during mitigation. Beginning March 20, the Administration pioneered 41 community-based drive-thru testing sites in locations prioritized by the CDC. The Administration issued a new testing framework on April 27 that prioritized testing for people without symptoms.

He explained that between now and the end of 2020 the federal government will procure over 135 million swabs, and 132 million tubes of media, and distribute these to states as requested. He noted that Quidel anticipates being able to distribute 300,000 tests per day within just a few weeks. By September, the Administration projects that the nation will be able to perform at least 40-50 million tests per month if needed.

Hahn noted that the FDA has worked with more than 500 developers who have or have said they will be submitting emergency use authorization (EUA) requests for COVID-19 tests. The FDA has issued 92 individual EUA’s for test kit manufacturers and labs.

Vaccines & Therapies

Fauci testified that there are multiple potential vaccines in development and it is likely a COVID-19 vaccine will be found in the next year or two. He noted there are at least eight candidate COVID-19 vaccines and said the NIH has been collaborating with several pharmaceutical companies at various stages of development. Fauci added he hopes to know if a vaccine is successful in the late fall/early winter.

The committee expressed concern about the lack of clarity in the Administration’s allocation of remdesivir and the absence of a timeline for distribution. Hahn acknowledged the importance of taking an evidence-based approach to distributing new treatments. He explained allocations of new treatments were made based on a methodology intended to prioritize areas with high levels of hospitalizations.

The committee also asked about the potential of monoclonal antibody preventative treatments or other therapeutics, and if preventative medication options like this could help complement the effectiveness of a vaccine. Fauci noted that there are several viral targets on a replication site. He stated that using convalescent plasma and monoclonal antibodies in a preventive modality are feasible and will be pursued in parallel with a vaccine.

Fatality Rates/Fall Outbreak

Fauci did not affirm if the U.S. has effectively contained COVID-19. He noted there has been a reduction in hospitalizations and deaths in many areas, but he said other regions are experiencing a spike in new cases. Although the overall curve has flattened, he warned that this is not equal to having completely contained the virus.

Contact Tracing

When asked if the U.S. can perform national contact tracing, Redfield recalled that CDC performed national contact tracing at the beginning of the outbreak, but he acknowledged this quickly switched to a mitigation approach as the outbreak spread. He further explained that the CDC is working with state and local health departments to understand existing capacities for testing and contact tracing. The CDC has deployed over 500 employees to engage in these efforts and the agency has dedicated $106 billion of funds appropriated in response legislation for contact tracing capabilities.