Washington Insider-- Monday

Importance of Disease Tracking and Testing

Here’s a quick monitor of Washington farm and trade policy issues from DTN’s well-placed observer.

Peterson Laments Ag Panel had Little Say in CFAP

House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said his panel has had little say in the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) developed by USDA.

“I am concerned that the Ag Committee has basically been neutered in this whole process and we don’t have really anything to say about anything. We’re getting all the flak from people,” Peterson said earlier this week in a phone interview with CQ Roll Call.

He said constituents have been calling to complain about flaws they see in the structure of the payments and do not believe his explanation that he has little input beyond voting for the March 27 legislation.

However, he pledged the panel will do a “top-to-bottom” review of how the COVID-19 situation has impacted agriculture. But he said the House scheduled does not allow enough time for an in-person hearing and it would be difficult to find a hearing room large enough for the 47-member panel given social distancing provisions.


UK Trade Official Hopes For Trade Deal yy US November Elections

Reaching a trade deal between the U.S. and UK prior to the November 3 U.S. elections remains a goal, according to reports of remarks made by Her Majesty’s Trade Commissioner for North America Antony Phillipson at a Washington International Trade Association (WITA) even Thursday (June 11).

The two sides have a “shared ambition” for that goal. “If possible, we want to get an agreement signed before the election,” he said. Negotiators were working well before the first round of talks, Phillipson pointed out, saying the two sides were looking to get the deal done in a “very different” and “much quicker” way than previously.

Digital trade and taxation are key areas that Phillipson identified for the pact and the UK was disappointed there has not been more progress on that issue via the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Digital trade, intellectual property and data flows will be “key drivers in our view of the future of the global economy,” he observed.

While the two sides already have lofty standards in those areas, Phillipson said he thinks the trade deal provides a forum to “take that to even greater heights and then roll that discussion into a plurilateral and global forum.” The two sides are “absolutely on the same page” relative to the Irish border issue, he added.

Washington Insider: Importance of Disease Tracking and Testing

Bloomberg is reporting this week that although much of the virus-related public debate has focused on economic subsidies, state and local health departments are pushing Congress for billions of dollars to expand their disease-tracking programs. In addition, they are warning of the dangers of “reopening without systems in place to monitor the spread of the coronavirus.”

Lawmakers have already provided $25 billion to ramp up COVID-19 testing, which includes $11 billion sent to state governments that could be used for tracing. Those efforts could allow contacting people who may have come into contact with the virus and trying to isolate those who could spread it. Such programs are key to loosening social distancing rules, health experts say.

However, more money, projected at almost $8 billion, is needed to hire tracers and prepare for a possible resurgence of the virus in coming months, public health groups say. Concern is also rising that funds aren’t being evenly distributed. Few new hires have been available to agencies that are supposed to do this work. The risk, Bloomberg says, is that states are “hundreds of workers short of the staff they need to reopen.”

“The single best tool we have for bringing this virus under control and for saving hundreds of thousands of lives and for getting our economy up and running is an effective testing, tracing, and supportive isolation program,” Ashish Jha, a professor of global health at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told lawmakers recently. “There is nothing else.”

Lawmakers have yet to reach agreement over the specific amount of money is needed to bolster contact tracing and who should get the funds. House Democrats included $75 billion for testing and contact tracing in legislation they passed largely along party lines in May, but the Senate leadership rejected that bill. They are expected to wait until July to pass another economic stimulus package.

The money should largely go to state and local health departments, the National Association of County and City Health Officials along with the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, Association of Public Health Laboratories and other groups say. Together they have asked Congress for $7.6 billion in new money.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees is asking lawmakers for $1 trillion in state aid that includes hiring a permanent disease-tracking workforce across the U.S.. Public health departments are frequently “on the chopping block” as the recession caused by the spread of COVID-19 tightens state budget, a leader of the group says.

Lawmakers have been debating options for funding and staffing contact tracing across the country, including one bill that would send $10 billion to states and Native American tribes to hire more than 100,000 tracers and support personnel and another bill that would provide $100 billion for a mobile testing and tracing system.

Some of the proposals lawmakers have floated would temporarily hire the newly unemployed to do much of the contact tracing while others would establish grants. The National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) recommended states hire about 30 people to do contact tracing per 100,000 people.

Much of the front-line work can be done by people who aren’t specialists but ultimately disease tracking requires supervision by epidemiologists and other trained professionals, said Adriane Casalotti, chief of government and public affairs of the NACCHO.

Right now, most health departments are doing contact tracing with their existing staff but that work is stretching public health thin and distracting from tracking other diseases.

State governments use different tactics on creating contact tracing programs, data the National Academy for State Health Policy collected show. Indiana has outsourced the job to a private contractor; Massachusetts hired more than 1,000 workers through a local nonprofit; and Texas is expected to spend about $300 million on contact tracing over the next two years.

“Hiring is a challenge,” she said. “Every minute we’re kind of wasting with not really focusing on action is lost. It’s not like you can flip a switch get 1,000 contact tracers in your community.”

So, we will see. The job of mapping the presence of the virus and tracing it to its origins is enormous in scope and clearly will present different challenges than nearly any past government activity. And, it will be expensive, experts agree. How this is organized and directed will be extremely important and should be watched closely by producers as the effort proceeds, Washington Insider believes.

Want to keep up with events in Washington and elsewhere throughout the day? See DTN Top Stories, our frequently updated summary of news developments of interest to producers. You can find DTN Top Stories in DTN Ag News, which is on the Main Menu on classic DTN products and on the News and Analysis Menu of DTN’s Professional and Producer products. DTN Top Stories is also on the home page and news home page of online.dtn.com. Subscribers of MyDTN.com should check out the US Ag Policy, US Farm Bill and DTN Ag News sections on their News Homepage.

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