ICYMI: Burr: PAHPA Passed ‘With This Day in Mind,’ Should Guide Coronavirus Response Framework

In Case You Missed It: Yesterday, Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) questioned U.S. public health officials on the federal government’s current efforts to prepare for and respond to COVID-19, or the novel coronavirus.

Senator Burr is the author of the bipartisan Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act (PAHPA), which created the modern framework for responding to pandemics and biothreats. At yesterday’s hearing, Senator Burr urged the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to fully leverage the existing response framework for its ongoing efforts to address the spread of the coronavirus.

Sen. Burr asks CDC Principal Deputy Director Dr. Anne Schuchat to clarify CDC’s use of funding for its surveillance capabilities.

Sen. Burr asks CDC Principal Deputy Director Dr. Anne Schuchat to clarify CDC’s use of funding for its surveillance capabilities.  


Senator Burr: In 2005, when Senator [Ted] Kennedy and I passed PAHPA, it was with this day in mind. That we would be faced with a pandemic – and we’re close to that determination. And I would only say that the temptations to do legislation are great. Before you do it, read what the statute says. Read what the latitude is that our responders have. Let them do their jobs. Dr. Hahn just expressed he just did two emergency use authorizations. That’s part of the work of this committee, so let’s not be too quick to go out and encumber them with micromanaging what they do.

Senator Burr: Dr. Schuchat, we’ve known about the potential threat since early January if not in December with what we’re looking back at now. Diagnostics had to be one of the things we were looking at saying, ‘we’ve got to be able to do this.’ And we devote, through PAHPA, $150 million each year to strengthen the surveillance capabilities at the state level.

How can we have a situation like Washington State where we’ve known for up to six weeks reaching possibly 1,500 individuals, yet we experience what we have with this long-term care facility and clearly a cluster that we don’t know the magnitude of? How can that happen when we’ve invested so much in being there early on and understanding it and being prepared?

Dr. Anne Schuchat, Principal Deputy Director for the CDC: CDC very rapidly developed a new PCR for a completely new virus. We posted the instructions for that PCR on the website so other labs -- academic labs, commercial labs, research labs -- could similarly develop tests. BARDA has the responsibility to work with the private sector to get commercial labs up and running, and the CDC has supplied the public health labs with the ability to do the testing. The situation in Washington State is tragic. And outbreak in a long-term care facility is one of the things we have been worried about from Day 1. We learned from the SARS experience in 2003 that super-spreading events or super-spreading individuals could cause very large amplification rapidly, so the concern about health care setting has been at the foremost in our mind.

Senator Burr: Dr. Schuchat, I believe you. I’m only looking at were we better prepared for this happening, and it doesn’t seem to be that we were.

Watch Senator Burr’s full line of questioning here. To watch the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee’s full hearing on the federal government’s response to this public health emergency, click here.

On February 7, 2020, Senator Burr and Chairman of the Senate HELP Committee, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), penned an op-ed on the prevention steps available to the federal government to protect Americans from the coronavirus.