WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, in a letter to incoming White House COVID-19 Coordinator Jeffrey Zients and nominee for U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) outlined a number of key priorities and actions the incoming administration should take as they oversee the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Brown urged the leaders to ensure widespread testing and aggressive contact tracing and vaccination are key components to the team’s response, as well as working to reduce contraction and the spread of the virus in workplaces, improving data collection, securing adequate PPE, and strengthening medical supply chains. Brown also urged the members of the COVID-19 Advisory Board to make sure their efforts include addressing racial inequities and the disproportionate risk COVID-19 poses to American communities of color.

“More than 280,000 Americans, including thousands of frontline and essential workers, have lost their lives to COVID-19 because President Trump and his Administration failed to take this public health emergency seriously and refused to take critical steps to protect workers and to secure a sustainable supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) and medical supplies. Despite the fact that we are nearly a year into this pandemic, we continue to lose, on average, one American every minute to this virus. A disproportionate number of those deaths occur in Black, brown and indigenous communities.  As you work with the Biden Transition Team and other members of the COVID-19 Advisory Board to develop the national plan necessary to fight the pandemic, specifically the disproportionate risk it poses to American communities of color, I urge you to take into consideration the following recommendations,” Brown wrote in the letter.

Brown’s recommendations include:

Testing, Contact Tracing, and Vaccine Distribution

  • Establishing an effective, accessible, equitable and accurate testing regime, and a system to comprehensively capture testing data.
  • Ensuring all Americans have access to regular, reliable, and free COVID-19 testing and that our state and local health departments have the resources and personnel necessary to manage the surge in reported infections and engage in effective enhanced screening, mitigation, suppression practices, and successful vaccine distribution.
  • Prioritizing and recommending ways to engage in culturally competent approaches to contact tracing, isolation, and quarantine.
  • Ensuring our national strategy prioritizes access and utilization by populations at disproportionate risk, including communities of color that have been most impacted by this virus, as well as medically underserved communities. The Advisory Board should also continue to invest in effective therapeutics, as not all Americans will have access to a vaccine immediately.

Workplace Transmission

  • Reducing the contraction and spread of the virus in workplaces as a top priority of any national plan to respond to the pandemic, and ensure those efforts include addressing racial disparities.
  • Establishing mandatory workplace safety standards for employers. An Emergency Temporary Standard for COVID-19 should be issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) as quickly as possible, and strong enforcement of that plan must immediately follow.
  • Rescinding the Trump Administration rule that allowed companies to speed up production lines at meat processing plants, in order to address COVID-19 transmission at meatpacking plants.
  • Issuing an interim Department of Transportation final rule, or take other action using its safety oversight authority to mandate the usage of face masks for passengers in all DOT-regulated transportation modes. 
  • Developing and implementing Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security protocols to address the unique, severe COVID-19 challenges detention centers and correctional facilities are facing.

Data Collection

  • Collecting COVID-19 data from public health officials and from employers that is complete and accurate.
  • Ensuring the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) work with states, state and local public health officials, and healthcare providers and facilities such as hospitals and nursing homes, to ensure COVID-19 related data collection is coordinated, thorough, and timely.
  • Working with the largest employers in sectors in which the spread of COVID-19 has been documented to collect facility-level data, including the health care, meat processing plants, and warehouse industries.

PPE and Medical Equipment Supply Chains

  • Maintaining a contracting process that results in high-quality medical supplies and equipment that ensures our health care workers can do their jobs safely and effectively. 
  • Directing the federal government to purchase PPE in a way that properly balances the urgent demands of the pandemic while also supporting and encouraging a robust domestic PPE industry.
  • Naming a White House-based point person in charge of coordinating the federal government’s effort to procure PPE and medical equipment and securing the related supply chains across Departments. This person should have knowledge of these supply chains, including the specifications of the goods to be procured, existing American producers, and opportunities to expand domestic production. 

Outreach to Experts

  • Reaching out to experts who can help to formulate the national response necessary to get the pandemic under control and ensure we do so in a way that leaves no community behind. In order to do so, Brown recommends the Advisory Board consider reaching out to President & CEO of the National Council of Textile Organizations Kim Glas, Executive Director of the Warrior Protection & Readiness Coalition David Costello, President of Hamilton Grace LLC and former Director of the Strategic National Stockpile Greg Burel, and Executive Director of Healthcare Ready and former Senior Advisor to the U.S. State Department’s Special Coordinator for Ebola, Nicolette Louissaint.
  • Ensuring Advisory Board membership, consultations, and recommendations appropriately focus on addressing the pandemic’s racial inequities. 
  • Ensure the Transition Team and the Advisory Board hear from experts across the country, including those from small cities and rural communities. 

Brown’s full letter can be read here.

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