WASHINGTON – Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.), Emergency Preparedness, Response and Recovery Subcommittee ranking member, today delivered the following opening statement at a subcommittee hearing entitled, “Community Perspectives on Coronavirus Preparedness and Response.”
The novel coronavirus or COVID-19 has already claimed thousands of lives across the globe, including over 20 here in the United States.
This is not the first time our country has had to deal with an outbreak and it likely won’t be the last. Luckily, our country has been preparing for exactly this type of situation. Just last year, the Department of Health and Human Services conducted the Crimson Contagion 2019 Functional Exercise – a multi-state, whole-of-government exercise to assess the Nation’s ability to respond to a large-scale outbreak. Last summer, the President signed into law the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act. And since 2015, under republican leadership, funding for infectious disease response increased by 70%.
While the virus is here now in the United States, we didn’t see the first case until mid-January. Implementing travel restrictions bought us time, and mandatory quarantine helped to initially contain the spread of the virus. Unfortunately, through community spread, positive cases for COVID-19 have now been reported in over 30 states. The New York State Department of Health is reporting over 140 positive cases and a state of emergency was declared just this past weekend.
Blind panic won’t help us stop this virus from spreading. Cooperation, information sharing, and strong leadership are critical to successfully dealing with a situation of this magnitude. We must ensure that proper protocols are put in place and that the federal government works hand-in-hand with our state and local partners.
As recommended in A National Blueprint for Biodefense by the Bipartisan Commission on Biodefense, I was pleased to hear last week’s panel of witnesses agree with the President’s selection of the Vice President to lead the coronavirus task force. To achieve a whole-of-government, coordinated response to this outbreak, it is important that the person in charge has visibility of the entire government, and a direct line to the President. The Vice President is the right choice.
While there has already been a vigorous international, federal, state, and local response, as this situation continues to unfold, I encourage everyone to heed the advice of our medical professionals – wash your hands, stay home when sick, and visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) website for up-to-date information.
I commend the first responders, medical personnel, and public health officials who have responded courageously to care for those who are sick. I look forward to hearing from our panel today to understand more about the COVID-19 virus and possible response and mitigation measures moving forward.