Kuster Hears from Governors on COVID-19 Response in Underserved Communities in Energy and Commerce Hearing
**Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing Tuesday on Governors’ state-level responses amid the coronavirus pandemic**
Washington, DC, June 3, 2020
Watch Congresswoman Kuster’s line of questioning here.
Concord, NH - This week, Rep. Annie Kuster (NH-02) participated in a virtual hearing with governors on state-level responses amid the COVID-19 pandemic in the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. Kuster questioned Governors Gretchen Whitmer (MI), Jared Polis (CO), and Asa Hutchinson (AR) on their efforts to curb the spread of coronavirus and prioritize rolling out a vaccine that is available to all, particularly lower-income communities and communities of color who have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.
“Given the burdens that COVID-19 placed on our nation’s public health and health care system, we have a brief window in which to learn from past missteps and prepare for a second wave,” said Kuster. “Across our nation, lower-income communities and communities of color have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and remain especially vulnerable. The lessons we take away from this hearing can and must shape our actions as we continue to face the challenges of this pandemic.”
Rep. Kuster has repeatedly advocated for a widely available COVID-19 vaccine once one becomes available – watch her line of questioning here or read below:
[KUSTER] Thank you so much for being with us. I want to thank you. This is not a partisan issue. We have a federal democratic delegation here in New Hampshire and a Republican governor. We’ve struggled with all the issues you’ve talked about with PPE, and with testing, and with supplies.
I want to move to the next step, which is moving forward about an even more dangerous second wave of COVID-19 along with the flu next fall or winter. CDC Director Dr. Redfield has cautioned that a second wave of COVID-19 could be even more dangerous.
Given the burdens that COVID-19 placed on the nation’s public health and health care system, it’s my belief we have a brief window in which to learn from our past missteps that you all have outlined regarding supplies, and testing, and PPE and prepare for this second wave.
And I want to say, not just with regard to additional testing and care demands on our providers - but also the vaccinations that we are going to need across our country.
Governor Whitmer - I’d love to ask you, in light of the COVID-19 testing challenges your state has faced, what solutions can be applied in preparation for a potential second wave of the virus to ensure your progress is not undone?
[GOV. WHITMER] Congresswoman thank you for that question, I think it’s an important one. I know that, while we’ve been through a tremendously difficult couple of months, a second wave would be even more devastating. That’s why it’s so important that we get this right as we think about reengagement.
It’s also why I’m working with some of the best experts and epidemiologists in the country to inform every step of the way. Also working with a bipartisan group of midwestern governors to share information on how we’re phasing in our economy.
We’ve got to avoid a second wave at all costs and ensuring there is robust access and utilization of the flu vaccine and that people aren’t putting off other vaccines that they are due for is all a critical component to us being as strong as we can going into the Fall. It’s also why things can’t just flip a switch and return to normal. We have to turn a dial and incrementally reengage knowing that until we have a vaccine that’s widely available - we’ve got to wear masks and socially distance and be really smart.
But, I think all these pieces are so critical why we take a data-driven, fact-based approach and listen to the science and build up our stores of testing and our ability to trace lines.
[KUSTER] Well I appreciate that and particularly your comments about a lack of a national strategy for testing. We definitely need a national strategy for vaccination and we had such troubling testimony from Dr. Rick Bright in our committee about the lack of national strategy and planning and preparedness.
I want to ask you, Governor Polis - as the public health workforce and health care providers focus on vaccination going forward, I want to understand lessons learned in your state. Particularly I’m concerned about the equitable distribution of vaccines once it’s approved and particularly in lower-income communities, rural communities, and most especially - given the events of this week - communities of color, which have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 with a much higher rate of death and how can we be certain that the vaccine - when it becomes available - will be available in an equitable way in communities of color and also rural communities in your state and across the country?
[GOV. POLIS] First, for the vaccines we have - mainly the flu vaccine - we’re doing a major effort heading into late summer and Fall to increase our flu vaccine rates. The last thing we want is a resurgence in COVID patients coupled with a worse than average flu season that would only contribute to overwhelming our hospitals.
What’s also important here is that we look at prioritizing those who are most at risk from COVID-19 for vaccination when we have a vaccine. The CDC has current guidelines for who is at risk. It’s 65 and up and it’s a number of other criteria that they use. In our state, we added one - pregnant women - because we don’t yet know enough and, out of precaution, we wanted to add pregnant women to the CDC list.
As that list is finalized, optimized, and approved that should be the list for who gets vaccinated first. Those who have a much higher hospitalization rate and morbidity rate from COVID-19, regardless of their economic circumstances - the virus does not discriminate. It’s based on the attributes, the age, and the other preexisting conditions people have.
[KUSTER] Thank you.