May 14, 2020

Warren, Levin, Merkley, Smith Introduce Legislation for a National Contact Tracing Program

Coronavirus Containment Corps Act Will Boost the Country's Capacity to Trace and Prevent COVID-19; Necessary Component of Containing the Virus & Reviving Our Economy

Read New Op-Ed by Warren and Levin Here

Bill Text | Bill Summary

Washington, DC - Today, United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Congressman Andy Levin (D-Mich.) introduced legislation for a federal contact tracing program to halt the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). The lawmakers are calling for their legislation to be included in the next response package that passes Congress. The legislation is co-sponsored by Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Ore) and Tina Smith (D-Minn). 

Contact tracing is a core public health tool that helps mitigate the spread of infectious diseases. Contact tracers identify a patient, connect with all of the people they may have infected, and help connect potentially infected and confirmed infected people with services and resources. During a Senate hearing this week, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top medical expert on the White House Coronavirus Task Force, confirmed to Senator Warren that if we don't have countermeasures like contact tracing in place, there will be more infections and more deaths. 

But here's the problem: there are not enough contact tracers in the United States. Since the Great Recession, roughly 50,000 public health jobs have been lost, and public health departments are severely underfunded. Warren and Levin introduced a plan for contact tracing in April, and the House Democrats' proposal introduced this week includes provisions from their plan including $500 million to hire a group of culturally competent contact tracers drawing from the communities they will work in, with diversity reflecting those communities, and who are able to speak the communities' languages. But the full Coronavirus Containment Corps Act should be passed into law to fight COVID-19 and potential future waves of infection.

"To confront a national crisis, we need a proactive nationwide strategy -- and the Trump Administration is failing to come up with one," said Senator Warren. "Our legislation will massively expand our health care workforce to trace and prevent COVID-19, make sure states and localities have the support they need, and provide robust privacy protections to ensure Americans' personal data and health information is protected. It is critical to stopping the virus dead in its tracks, keeping our communities healthy, and getting our economy up and running." 

"Not only is a national contact tracing program essential to reopening the American economy, but it is the most effective way to begin immediately getting dislocated workers back on the job," said Representative Levin. "The Coronavirus Containment Corps harnesses the same imagination and ingenuity of FDR's Civilian Conservation Corps to move our country past this pandemic while making a major investment in the American workforce. Senator Warren's and my plan provides a way out of this emergency while the Trump Administration refuses to provide a roadmap. We mustn't delay-workers suffer the longer our country goes without a national contact tracing strategy.

"Our lives and businesses can't remain frozen in place forever, but if we reopen without a plan to contain this virus, it will spark a second wave costing thousands more American lives," said Senator Merkley. "If we want to revive our economy and our way of life, we must put in place an expansive, nationwide strategy for testing and contact tracing. We need a plan and we need it now."

"We need to continue the public health efforts we know are effective in combating the coronavirus pandemic, keeping communities healthy, and getting the economy back on its feet," said Senator Smith. "This legislation will help establish a much-needed national contact tracing strategy so we can track down and prevent the spread of the virus. It provides states and Tribes with the resources they need to implement the plan, and takes proactive steps to protect Americans' privacy throughout the process. Together, we can stop the spread of the virus.

  The Coronavirus Containment Corps Act will: 

  • Require the CDC to develop a national contact tracing strategy within 21 days in consultation with state, local, and tribal public health officials, Indian Tribes and Tribal organizations, and experts with knowledge or field experience concerning racial and ethnic disparities in public health and historically marginalized communities. The plan would identify the number of contact tracers, support specialists, and investigators necessary to conduct culturally competent contact tracing.
  • Protect Americans' privacy. The CDC would be required to include in its strategy plans to prevent the misuse of patient data; ensure automatic data deletion; data minimization, anonymization and security; and prohibit data sharing with and within the federal government with the exception of the CDC and Indian Health Service. It would also protect Tribal data sovereignty.
  • Provide $10 billion in funding states and Tribes to hire more than 100,000 contact tracers, support specialists, and case investigators and to help public health systems shore up for a potential resurgence of COVID-19 in the Fall.
  • Award $500 million to state and tribal workforce agencies to help hire new contact tracers, focusing specifically on Americans who are currently out of work as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The lawmakers' proposal, which is modeled after the robust contact tracing program implemented in Massachusetts, also calls for increased COVID-19 testing to ensure that contact tracing can happen at scale.