Opinion: Trump’s budget puts coronavirus response at risk

February 26, 2020
President’s deep CDC cuts are dangerous at a time when we’re facing a potential pandemic

There’s been plenty of news coverage about the spread of the novel coronavirus, especially as more cases are diagnosed here in California. Coverage of the outbreak is important, but it is also vital to understand the behind-the-scenes work of our nation’s public health professionals.

While the World Health Organization has said it is too early to declare a pandemic, the novel coronavirus, now known as COVID-19, is a global public health emergency that requires an all-hands-on-deck response from the public and private sectors.

Fortunately, we have the tools to prepare for this threat and for the next one. For nearly 15 years, I’ve led the charge in Congress to develop preparedness plans for pandemics and other public health emergencies. I knew we needed to prepare because it’s not a matter of if, but when, an outbreak hits.

The first response is to develop treatments and vaccines to fight the virus. In 2006, I wrote legislation to create the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), an agency that works with private partners to develop and produce vaccines and treatments for diseases. Now, BARDA is racing to develop a vaccine to protect against COVID-19, partnering with Sanofi and Johnson & Johnson on separate vaccine candidates. Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services, has said that a vaccine may be available to the public in a year. 

Next, we need to prevent the spread of coronavirus, especially in hospitals and among health care workers. Last May, through another bill I authored, Congress provided more funding to the Hospital Preparedness Program which trains hospitals and their staff to find and isolate patients with possible COVID-19. Hospitals in our area are receiving federal guidance and resources on how to prepare to care for a larger number of patients in case the coronavirus outbreak escalates and how to monitor and manage any healthcare personnel that might be exposed to COVID-19. My legislation also provided funding to states and localities to track the disease, which will improve communities’ ability to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.

But this work is now at risk. For almost two years, President Trump has left critical positions in charge of managing pandemics at the National Security Council and the Department of Homeland Security vacant. Amid the outbreak, President Trump’s budget cuts $3 billion from the U.S. government’s global health program and 16 percent from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These deep cuts are dangerous at a time when we’re facing a potential pandemic. On Monday, President Trump requested emergency funding for the coronavirus response, but his request of $1.25 billion in new funding falls short of what our state and local public health departments need. For example, a former Trump official focused on emergency health preparedness, Chris Meekins, has called for $15 billion in funding for the coronavirus response.

As chairwoman of the House Subcommittee on Health, on Wednesday I’m holding the first hearing with the public health officials President Trump has put in charge of handling our response to the coronavirus outbreak. Our preparedness plans are kicking into action, but without the necessary federal support, the behind-the-scenes work that is currently protecting Americans will be undermined. President Trump says the United States has the outbreak “very much under control.” His own policies could threaten that promise.

Anna Eshoo represents the 18th District in the U.S. House of Representative and is chairwoman of the House Subcommittee on Health.

This opinion was published by the San Jose Mercury News