Murkowski Questions Experts on COVID-19 Response Efforts During Senate HELP Committee Hearing
‘Every effort that we make to keep the virus out of Alaska is lives that are saved’
U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) today took part in a Senate HELP Committee hearing entitled COVID-19: Safely Getting Back to Work and Back to School. The hearing focused on how U.S. Department of Health and Human Services agencies are working to help states and communities prepare to reopen in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, including efforts to increase testing, accelerate research, develop treatments and vaccines, and provide public health and safety guidance.
The hearing included testimony from expert witnesses: Anthony Fauci, MD, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health; Robert Redfield, MD, Director of the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Admiral Brett Giroir, MD, Assistant Secretary for Health at the United States Department of Health and Human Services; Stephen Hahn, MD, Commissioner of Food And Drugs for the United States Food and Drug Administration.
Senator Murkowski spoke to Alaska’s current status in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic and reiterated the efforts that have been taken to ensure that Alaskan communities do not become hot spots for the virus. She also questioned Admiral Brett Giroir on efforts to ensure the health and safety of remote Alaskan communities.
“So much of the focus has been on hot spots and responding to the hot spots, but how do you keep those rural and remote communities from becoming the hot spots in the first place. Are we doing enough? Right now the strategy has been to just lock it off. The travel restrictions in place are apparently working but they are also devastating our economy. Whether it is tourism, our resource industries, or the potential of our fisheries,” said Senator Murkowski.
Admiral Giroir acknowledged the work of Dr. Anne Zinke, Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer, and commended Alaska’s state health protocols. Giroir emphasized that the agency understands that many of Alaska’s communities were almost annihilated in the 1918 Influenza Pandemic—a memory which is still very hurtful and alarming to many Alaskans. He acknowledged how incredibly challenging it is to provide COVID-19 testing in Alaska and assured Senator Murkowski that the agency will continue to work to ensure the health and safety of all Alaskans.
Senator Murkowski went on to question Dr. Robert Redfield on the need for contact tracing in Alaska.
“This relates to contact tracing, and I think this is a key part of how we move forward to getting people back to work and school. Right now we have about 100 people that are involved in contact tracing in Alaska, and that’s clearly not sufficient. There’s been talk about a national strategy, but I think we recognize that we have teams in place whether it’s AmeriCorps, Peace Corps, our public health corps. But what more do we need to be doing to ensure that once you’ve been tested positive—you know then—what happens after that and who else needs to be brought in? I’m not convinced we’re focusing enough on that aspect and how we move to reopening if we haven’t done the contact tracing.”
Dr. Redfield echoed Senator Murkowski’s thoughts, confirming the need to expand contact tracing capacity before September. He emphasized that the CDC remains committed to working with states to ramp up trace contact testing capacity.
On May 8, 2020, Senator Murkowski took part in a Senate HELP Committee hearing entitled “Shark Tank: New Tests for COVID-19.” The hearing focused on the current status of testing for the COVID-19 virus and how the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) are working to support the rapid development of new tests for COVID-19, through the NIH Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx) Initiative and other programs.
COVID-19 SAFETY NOTICE:
In accordance with the U.S. Senate’s Attending Physician and the U.S. Senate Sergeant at Arms, in consultation with the Department of Health and Human Services and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Senate hearings have enacted the following adjustments to help ensure the health and safety of all participants during the COVID-19 pandemic: Members were seated six feet apart to respect social distancing guidelines; Participants were given the option to take part in the hearing by video conference; To maintain social distancing, very limited seating was accommodated; Members wore masks to and from the hearing room, but were allowed to remove masks during the hearing, if they chose to do so, as they were seated 6 feet from other members.