July 22, 2020

Senator Warren Requests Information on CDC's Legal Authority to Stem the Surge in COVID-19 Cases in States and Localities

CDC has legal authority to take public health measures in the "event of inadequate local control" & could implement mask requirements, limits on gatherings, and other measures to stop the spread of the virus. Dr. Fauci told Senator Warren that the U.S. could see 100,000 new cases a day; "When you have an outbreak in one part of the country...It puts the entire country at risk"

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington, DC - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, sent a letter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield regarding the agency's plans to use its existing legal authorities to implement and enforce public health measures under the Public Health Service Act, which gives the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the CDC Director significant authority to "take measures to prevent the entry and spread of communicable diseases from foreign countries into the United States and between states." In particular,  the CDC Director may, "whenever the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determines that the measures taken by health authorities of any State or possession (including political subdivisions thereof) are insufficient to prevent the spread of any of the communicable diseases from such State or possession to any other State or possession, he/she may take such measures to prevent such spread of the diseases as he/she deems reasonably necessary."

Senator Warren requested information about whether the CDC has taken any efforts to exercise these authorities or evaluate whether certain states or local jurisdictions would warrant and benefit from more serious interventions from federal public health authorities. She specifically asked whether, given a surge in COVID-19 cases across the country, the CDC has considered efforts to implement targeted mask requirements, a limit on gatherings, and other measures that the agency has recommended to stop the spread of the virus. Last week, the United States reported the highest number of new cases in a single day, with over 75,000 newly confirmed coronavirus infections. Today, nearly 3.8 million cases have been diagnosed nationwide and over 140,000 Americans have died.

"As cases continue to rise across the country-most severely in areas that initially took weak preventative public health measures or reopened prematurely-it is imperative that the federal government immediately take action to stop the spread," wrote Senator Warren. "These authorities were delegated to the CDC to address significant public health threats that cross state and municipal borders and therefore cannot be controlled by a single state or community-such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic."

Dr. Fauci told Senator Warren that the U.S. could see 100,000 COVID-19 cases a day if the nation fails to reverse course. He added that, "when you have an outbreak in one part of the country, even though in other parts of the country they're doing well, they are vulnerable. We can't just focus on those areas that are having the surge. It puts the entire country at risk."Director Redfield has said, "The time is now... I think if we could get everybody to wear a mask right now I think in four, six, eight weeks we could bring this epidemic under control." 

Senator Warren has requested responses from the CDC to her letter no later than July 31, 2020. 

Senator Warren has led efforts to push the CDC to use all the tools available to the agency during this public health emergency. On May 18, 2020, Senator Warren sent a letter to CDC Director Redfield requesting information clarifying whether the agency would use its legal authority to cover COVID-19 testing and treatment costs, and its plans to use those authorities as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. In a New York Times op-ed this week, Senator Warren once again stressed the need for the federal government to take bold action to contain the virus.