Congressional and Federal Agency Responses and Research Opportunities Regarding the COVID-19 Outbreak

  

By Lewis-Burke Associates, LLC – March 17

In response to the novel coronavirus COVID-19, Lewis-Burke Associates has compiled an update regarding the federal response to the pandemic and impact on federal agencies relevant to Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES).

Administration Updates
White House Calls on Tech Community to Create New Machine Readable COVID-19 Dataset

On March 16, the Allen Institute for AI, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI), Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology (CSET), Microsoft, and the National Library of Medicine (NLM) at the National Institutes of Health released the COVID-19 Open Research Dataset (CORD-19) of scholarly literature about COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, and the Coronavirus group.  Requested by The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the dataset represents the most extensive machine-readable Coronavirus literature collection available for data and text mining to date.  The COVID-19 resources is available on the Allen Institute’s website: https://pages.semanticscholar.org/coronavirus-research.

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy also issued a call to action to artificial intelligence experts to develop new text and data mining techniques that can help the science community answer high-priority scientific questions related to COVID-19.  Researchers should submit the text and data mining tools and insights they develop in response to this call to action via the Kaggle platform.  Through Kaggle, a machine learning and data science community owned by Google Cloud, these tools will be openly available for researchers.  The OSTP call to action is available at https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/call-action-tech-community-new-machine-readable-covid-19-dataset/.

National Academies Stands up New Committee on Emerging Infectious Diseases and Public Health Threats 

In response to COVID-19, and in order to address future threats to public health, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) announced the formation of the Standing Committee on Emerging Infectious Diseases and 21st Century Health Threats.  The Committee was formed upon request from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR).  The standing committee will inform OSTP on issues related to emerging infectious diseases and other threats. 

The standing committee is expected to discuss the following issues, and may provide brief reports on recommendations to meet OSTP and ASPR’s needs:

  • Technical assistance and/or assessment of response to emerging infectious diseases; 
  • Availability of and access to information, samples, and other materials to determine the origin and evolution of emerging infectious diseases; 
  • International coordination and engagement; 
  • Technical assessment of ecological and evolutionary drivers of disease emergence; 
  • Approaches to proactive public messaging and strategies to address misinformation; and 
  • Other science and policy issues relevant to emerging infectious diseases and 21st century health threats. 

The standing committee currently features 15 members with backgrounds in a variety of topics such as emerging infectious diseases, public health, preparedness and response, biological sciences, risk communication, and regulatory issues, among others.  NASEM notes that it may make additional appointments and will allow 20 days for formal public comment on these appointments.  Organizations and members of the public may provide other feedback at https://www8.nationalacademies.org/pa/feedback.aspx?type=committee&key=HMD-HSP-20-03. 

Congressional Updates
House of Representatives Introduces and Passes Second Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental Package

A larger (perhaps $1 trillion package) is under development to address impacted industries and tax policy, which may pull from the House package.  More details on what is known about the current House version is below.

On Saturday, March 14, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a second emergency supplemental appropriations package aimed at strengthening the federal response to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.  This package includes at least $3.5 billion in new funding to cover COVID-19 diagnostic testing and nutritional and unemployment benefits.  Beyond this new funding, the bill includes several provisions related to paid sick leave.  The bill includes emergency paid leave for 14 days for those who have been diagnosed (or otherwise quarantined) and enhanced unemployment insurance for furloughed workers.  The bill also requires that employers with fewer than 500 employees and government employers offer two weeks of paid sick leave, as well as provide up to three months of paid family and medical leave for people forced to quarantine due to the virus or care for children or family members because of the outbreak. 

New funding in this supplemental package includes: 

  • $1.2 billion for coverage of COVID-19 diagnostic testing, including:
  • $82 million for the Department of Defense to cover the costs of testing for beneficiaries receiving care through the Defense Health Program.
  • $64 million for testing through the Indian Health Service or through an Urban Indian Health Organization.
  • $1 billion for the National Disaster Medical System to reimburse the costs of testing and services provided to individuals without health insurance. 
  • $60 million for the Department of Veterans Affairs to cover the costs of testing for veterans receiving care through Medical Services or through Medical Community Care. 
  • The bill also requires all health plans, including Medicare, Medicaid, and private plans, to cover COVID-19 testing at no cost.
  • $1.25 billion for emergency nutritional assistance, including:
  • $500 million for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children.
  • $400 million for the Emergency Food Assistance Program.
  • $100 million for food assistance block grants for Puerto Rico, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands.
  • $1 billion for emergency state grants for unemployment benefits, including:
  • $500 million for staffing and logistical costs to provide immediate additional funding to all states for staffing, technology, systems, and other administrative costs.
  • $500 million reserved for emergency grants to states which experience at least a 10 percent increase in unemployment.
  • $15 million for the Internal Revenue Service to implement tax credits for paid sick and paid family and medical leave. 

The House passed, by unanimous consent, a revised version of the supplemental package.  Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin spent much of Monday negotiating “technical corrections” to the bill, which centered around its provisions related to mandatory paid sick leave and their implications for small businesses. The bill now goes to the Senate, where Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has called for its immediate passage, while Senate Republicans remain mixed in their support for the package.  The exact timing of when the Senate will take up and vote on this supplemental package is yet to be finalized. 

Federal Guidance Related to Research and Higher Education
Department of Education

National Institutes of Health

National Science Foundation (NSF)

Department of Energy (DOE)

Department of Defense (DOD)

  • The DOD coronavirus response website is available at https://www.defense.gov/Explore/Spotlight/Coronavirus/.
  • At the time of writing, the Office of Naval Research (ONR) has not issued any guidance and grantees are expected to continue business-as-usual within the guidance of their respective institutions.

US Census Bureau

Research and Funding Opportunities
National Institutes of Health (NIH)

National Science Foundation (NSF)

While the emergency supplemental did not provide any new funding for projects related to COVID-19, the National Science Foundation (NSF) released a Dear Colleague Letter on March 4 for proposals “to conduct non-medical, non-clinical-care research that can be used immediately to explore how to model and understand the spread of COVID-19, to inform and educate about the science of virus transmission and prevention, and to encourage the development of processes and actions to address this global challenge.” The solicitation invites researchers to submit proposals through the Rapid Response Research (RAPID) funding mechanism.  The Dear Colleague Letter is available at https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=https-3A__www.nsf.gov_pubs_2020_nsf20052_nsf20052.jsp&d=DwMFaQ&c=eRAMFD45gAfqt84VtBcfhQ&r=eUlbGuCHfGAE0yRHBOl0sdTaLZDa6n7IY5-OO6TtvFQ&m=Q3NSKS_TEKbhpS8cy9WIz2maePIfvDFV3Oel1g1oGd8&s=PAc8l5KsG-dZ1Py1g-g3li4UDchNGpDvoGMQAN07xzM&e=.