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E&C Leaders Urge Trump Administration to Develop National COVID-19 Contact Tracing Strategy

Apr 30, 2020
Press Release
Lack of National Strategy Risks Creating Confusion and Inefficiencies and Raises Potential Privacy Concerns

Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Health Subcommittee Chairwoman Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA) and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chair Diana DeGette (D-CO) today urged Health and Human Service (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar to develop a national COVID-19 contact tracing strategy and stressed the need to increase the nation’s contact tracing capacity.  The Committee leaders made their request today in a letter to Azar. 

“We write to express serious concerns regarding the Trump Administration’s lack of a coordinated and comprehensive plan to increase the nation’s contact tracing capacity in response to the coronavirus,” Pallone, Eshoo and DeGette wrote to Secretary Azar.  “To stop the spread of the virus and safely reopen America’s communities and economy, government officials and public health experts have stressed the need to dramatically increase COVID-19 contact tracing resources.”

Earlier this week, the Trump Administration released a “Blueprint for Testing Plans and Rapid Response Programs,” but the document failed to include a nationwide strategy with a centralized coordinator to integrate contact tracing efforts into the broader COVID-19 response.

The Committee leaders voiced concern that the lack of a unified national strategy could result in duplicative or redundant workstreams among state and local public health departments at a time when resources are already limited. The lack of a national strategy also risks creating confusion and inefficiencies and raises potential privacy concerns as technology is increasingly used in contact tracing.

“As communities start to reopen portions of their economies, it is critical that the Trump Administration bring all the necessary tools, resources, and coordination capabilities together to articulate and manage a national contact tracing strategy,” the Committee leaders concluded.  “Further, given the challenges and confusion we have seen over the past several months with the Administration’s overall approach to this unfolding pandemic, it is also essential that the Administration designate a qualified senior coordinator to oversee its execution.”   

Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, state and local health departments in the United States had fewer than 2,000 workers doing contact tracing, which falls staggeringly short of the estimated need for at least 100,000 additional contact tracers nationwide to contain the virus.  While the federal government has recently ramped up efforts to assist states with contact tracing, the members note in their letter that a senior HHS official recently told the Committee that thousands more will be necessary to control the spread of COVID-19.

As part of their inquiry, the Committee leaders requested answers to a series of questions, including:

  • Is any member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force charged with coordinating national COVID-19 surveillance efforts, including contact tracing?
  • Has HHS identified any goals with regard to expanding COVID-19 contact tracing capacity in the United States?
  • How is HHS coordinating among federal departments and with state, local, territorial and tribal health departments to expand the capability and capacity of public health workforces and their contact tracing efforts?
  • Is HHS or another agency considering using or recommending any digital contact tracing tools or other technology, such as smartphone applications that use location data or Bluetooth signaling, to assist in COVID-19 contact tracing efforts?

To read the letter, click HERE.