Vice Chair Underwood Leads Homeland Hearing Examining the Federal Response to Coronavirus

March 11, 2020
Press Release
Presses top Administration officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Department of Homeland Security on community public health impacts of coronavirus

WASHINGTON— Today, Vice Chair Lauren Underwood (IL-14) chaired a House Committee on Homeland Security hearing examining the federal response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) with top Administration officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Department of Homeland Security. During the hearing led by Underwood, members questioned Deputy Director for Public Health Service and Implementation Science of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Dr. Stephen Redd, and Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Deputy Secretary, Department of Homeland Security, Ken Cuccinelli, on steps each Department is taking to aid state and local public health officials and health system leaders to prepare for the impacts of coronavirus. In her opening remarks, Underwood discussed the urgent need for a strong federal government response to coronavirus that includes supporting state and local public health departments, hospitals, and first responders, protecting Americans from health care costs, and safeguarding small businesses and American families from the economic impacts of coronavirus.

“We know that the spread of coronavirus has likely not yet reached its peak, and is affecting all of our communities. I don’t think there’s a person in this room who isn’t worried about an elderly or immunocompromised relative’s health, a friend’s job, or a child’s school closure. Just yesterday, the first two cases were diagnosed in the counties I represent in northern Illinois. Our job as Members of Congress is to keep Americans safe by working with the executive branch to lead a strong federal government response, including the House-led 8.3 billion dollar supplemental funding package that passed last week,” said Underwood.

As Vice Chair of the Homeland Security Committee and a public health nurse, Underwood is working to protect Illinois families from the spread of coronavirus. Last week, Underwood brought Illinois Department of Public Health Director, Dr. Ngozi O. Ezike, to testify at a hearing, where she shared the current steps the state of Illinois is taking to respond to coronavirus and coordinate efforts with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), federal agencies, and local entities. In the same week, Underwood questioned U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Acting Secretary Chad Wolf on the Department’s efforts to prepare and respond to coronavirus. Previously, Underwood has convened Illinois public health officials and health to discuss steps that the state of Illinois has taken to prepare and respond to the coronavirus. During the call, representatives from county public health departments, northern Illinois health systems, and community health centers discussed coronavirus preparedness, response, and how the public can best protect themselves from infection. Additionally, in a House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Hearing, Underwood questioned U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Robert Wilkie on the steps the Department has taken the ensure veterans have the information they need to protect themselves and their families from the spread of coronavirus. Following the hearing, Underwood sent a letter to Secretary Wilkie urging the VA and the Veterans Health Administration to conduct proactive risk communication to veterans in response to growing public health threats of the coronavirus in the United States.

 

Full video of Underwood’s opening statement can be found here and below.

 

Good afternoon.

 

Today, the Committee is meeting to examine the federal government’s response to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

 

As a nurse, I want to open by encouraging everyone to visit Coronavirus.gov for the most up-to-date information from the CDC.

 

And take care to practice habits that keep us all safe: wash your hands often with soap and water or use hand sanitizer. Don’t touch your face, cover coughs and sneezes, and avoid close contact with others if you or they are sick.

 

We know that the spread of coronavirus has likely not yet reached its peak, and is affecting all of our communities.

 

I don’t think there’s a person in this room who isn’t worried about an elderly or immunocompromised relative’s health, a friend’s job, or a child’s school closure.

 

Just yesterday, the first two cases were diagnosed in the counties I represent in northern Illinois.

 

Our job as Members of Congress is to keep Americans safe by working with the executive branch to lead a strong federal government response, including the House-led 8.3 billion dollar supplemental funding package that passed last week.

 

A strong response must include each of these three elements:

 

First, we must continue support for our local and state public health departments, our health care system, and our emergency responders who are on the front lines of this outbreak.

 

This starts with having reliable data to make decisions, like how to prepare for a surge to our health system, and how much personal protective equipment is needed for health workers. It also means developing and disseminating clear, accurate risk communication to the public.

 

America’s scientific and public health expertise is unmatched across the world, and it must be driving our decisions.

 

Second, we must protect people from health care costs associated with coronavirus. Testing and treatment must be widely available at no cost to patients, and price gouging of medical essentials and other supplies must be stopped.

 

If we do not take these crucial steps, the epidemic will worsen, because families will avoid seeking care for fear they can’t afford it, and our communities will be less safe.

 

Third, we must soften the economic impact of this crisis on American families and small businesses. This means paid sick leave for every worker, unemployment insurance, and food assistance if needed.

 

Given the Committee’s jurisdiction, today we will also examine the Department of Homeland Security’s role in the coronavirus response effort.

 

The Department plays a key role in protecting workers on the front lines of this outbreak, processing travelers entering the U.S., and referring them for screening by healthcare workers as necessary.

 

We will have questions today about the efficacy of this screening and how it is being performed at our air-, land-, and seaports. 

 

We also want to learn more about the Department’s ability to protect its workers, and whether it has adequate personal protective equipment for frontline personnel such as Customs and Border Protection Officers, Border Patrol agents, and Transportation Security Officers.  

 

Finally, we want to hear about what plans the Department has to ensure continuity of operations at certain essential facilities in case of outbreaks there, such as ports of entry, TSA checkpoints, and immigration detention facilities.

 

Today we are joined by Mr. Ken Cuccinelli, who is currently serving as the senior official performing the duties of Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security, to respond to these important questions.

 

Mr. Cuccinelli is also the Department’s representative on the White House Coronavirus Task Force. I hope to hear from him about the work of the Task Force this afternoon.

 

He is joined by Dr. Stephen Redd, a medical doctor and epidemiologist with decades of experience with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

 

It is my understanding that Dr. Redd was due to retire this month but has agreed to stay on to assist with coronavirus response.

 

We thank him for his dedication and service to our country, and thank both of our witnesses for being here with us today.

 

I look forward to a productive dialogue with my colleagues and our witnesses today.

 

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