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Merkley: We have to track down who has it or had it…

Sen. Jeff Merkley
D-Oregon

Merkley, Colleagues Introduce Legislation for a National Contact Tracing Program

Health experts urgently emphasize that contact tracing is necessary to contain virus and reopen communities

Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley, along with U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Tina Smith (D-MN), and Congressman Andy Levin (D-MI-9), introduced new legislation that would create a federal contact tracing program to halt the spread of the coronavirus disease, and are calling for the bill to be included in the next pandemic response package.

Contact tracers work with a patient to identify everyone they have been in contact with, contact those people to let them know they have been exposed, and help ensure that they can access testing and stay isolated to avoid spreading the disease to their own friends, family, coworkers, and others. During a Senate hearing this week, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top medical expert on the White House Coronavirus Task Force, confirmed that if we don’t have countermeasures like contact tracing in place, there will be a new wave of infections and deaths as states reopen. 

“We all want to get back to our lives and businesses as soon as possible, but if we reopen without a plan to contain this virus, it will spark a second wave costing thousands more American lives,” said Merkley. “If we want to revive our economy and our way of life, we must put in place a comprehensive, nationwide strategy for testing and contact tracing. We need a plan and we need it now.”

Contact tracing is a core public health tool widely used to mitigate the spread of infectious diseases—but cuts to public health have cost 50,000 public health jobs since the Great Recession, and a critical shortage of tracers is now putting lives at risk.

The Coronavirus Containment Corps Act would respond to this crisis by: 

  • Requiring the CDC to develop a national contact tracing strategy within 21 days in consultation with state, local, and tribal public health officials, Indian Tribes and Tribal organizations, and experts with knowledge or field experience concerning racial and ethnic disparities in public health and historically marginalized communities. The plan would identify the number of contact tracers, support specialists, and investigators necessary to conduct culturally competent contact tracing.
  • Providing $10 billion in funding for states and Tribes to hire over 100,000 contact tracers, support specialists, and case investigators, and to help shore up public health systems for a potential resurgence of COVID-19 in the fall.
  • Protecting Americans’ privacy. The CDC would be required to include in its strategy plans to prevent the misuse of patient data; ensure automatic data deletion; data minimization, anonymization and security; and prohibit data sharing with and within the federal government with the exception of the CDC and Indian Health Service.
  • Awarding $500 million to state and tribal workforce agencies to help hire new contact tracers, focusing specifically on Americans who are currently out of work as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The legislation is the most recent of a series of steps by Senator Merkley to speed up and prepare for a safe reopening of society by boosting testing and contact tracing. Previously, Senator Merkley led his colleagues in pushing the Trump administration to immediately craft, release, and implement a plan that includes expanded testing for the coronavirus and enhanced contact tracing, and has been outspoken in laying out a vision for robust testing and contact tracing efforts in Oregon and across the country.

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