The House subcommittee with jurisdiction over funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) held two events highlighting the nation’s public health needs in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and other threats during the week of Feb. 22.
House Appropriations Committee Chair Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who also leads the committee’s Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (Labor-HHS) Subcommittee, held a virtual roundtable on Feb. 23 for members of the subcommittee to hear updates on the COVID-19 pandemic from CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH; CDC Principal Deputy Director Anne Schuchat, MD; and National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases Director Nancy Messonier, MD.
In her opening remarks, Chairwoman DeLauro acknowledged a similar briefing the subcommittee had held a year earlier before the extent of the pandemic was fully understood. “For the past year, we have simultaneously been struggling to combat a public health emergency and an economic one,” she stated, noting the deaths of over 500,000 individuals in the United States.
She reiterated a key theme from the roundtable discussion at the subcommittee's Feb. 24 hearing, “Ready or Not: U.S. Public Health Infrastructure.” She said, “As Dr. Schuchat from the CDC observed in our COVID-19 member roundtable yesterday, ‘emergency resources are very different than sustainable longitudinal capacity,’ and what health departments really need is help ‘improving the data, improving the workforce skillsets, improving the lab capacity.’”
Health officials from four jurisdictions echoed those comments in their testimonies about ongoing challenges the public health community faces because of lagging investments in public health infrastructure.
“To meet this moment, we must transform our public health infrastructure,” Chairwoman DeLauro stated. “The health of our families and communities depend on it.”
Subcommittee Ranking Member Tom Cole (R-Okla.) concurred, noting that in addition to COVID-19, other public health threats such as the opioid epidemic and antibiotic resistance also require a reliable public health foundation.
“Unfortunately, our experience over the past year has shown that while we’ve done much, we still have much to do in the area of preparedness and modernizing the public health infrastructure,” he said. “We need to be ready for the next threat and not just prepared to fight the last war.”
Such an approach will require additional investment, Ranking Member Cole emphasized. “Sometimes, you need to spend billions to save trillions. … We may be able, given what has happened, to be a little more robust in this area than we have been able to be in the past.”