U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz is one of more than two dozen senators calling for the appointment of a qualified, senior global health security expert on the White House’s National Security Council to coordinate responses to COVID-19, the 2019 novel coronavirus.
Although President Trump has established the President’s Coronavirus Task Force, the senators told National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien, who is a member, that he is not a public health expert.
“Families concerned about the novel coronavirus threat need to know the NSC has a dedicated, senior official with appropriate expertise and authority to address the domestic and global health threats from the virus,” said Schatz and the senators in a letter. “It is of paramount importance that this person approaches this role through a public health lens. We urge immediate action.”
This top, global health position at the NSC has remained vacant for almost two years, according to the senators, and is long overdue.
The outbreak of the illness was first detected in Wuhan, Hubei province, China, in December, and it continues to expand, with the virus spreading from person to person and in a growing number internationally.
The senators noted that the World Health Organization has declared the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern, and that Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar on Jan. 31 declared it a public health emergency in the United States.
But they questioned which official at the NSC was responsible for managing the United States’ response to the novel coronavirus, coordinating efforts between public health agencies and other federal agencies, and what role he or she played on the President’s Coronavirus Task Force.
The senators requested answers to their questions no later than Feb. 27.