WASHINGTON—Efforts to track the spread of coronavirus in the United States are hampered because Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officials can’t use the most advanced form of location contact tracing, Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) said March 12.
Meanwhile, Cassidy and other senators are changing how they work in response to the virus.
“We’ve been advocating the use of location data, coupled with lab-test results, so that public health officials can better track those who are infected, where they may have been infected from, where you should go back and clean if you need to disinfect, and to warn those folks with whom they have routine contact in the future,” Cassidy told reporters.
“The World Health Organization (WHO) is now advising contact tracing, and the reports are from South Korea and Taiwan are that they used aggressive contact tracing, with aggressive testing, in order to get ahead of the outbreak,” Cassidy said.
“But I heard today that CDC will not have the ability to integrate the testing with the contact tracing, the big data, if you will, from AT&T, Verizon, and Google or whomever,” he said.
“I’m hoping that it can still be done, but CDC still feels that it cannot. That is frustrating and I will leave it at that,” he said.
“Public health says if we’re going to get on top of this … we need to be able to trace about 70 percent of the contacts, but traditional methods of tracing only get about 40 percent of contacts.”
Cassidy said having the more advanced approach would be less manpower consuming for health officials. He also said it will be at least two more weeks before officials will be able to administer the level of widespread testing that’s needed.
Developing such a capability should have been started years ago, Cassidy said, adding that he doesn’t think President Donald Trump should be blamed for something that CDC officials should have been doing beforehand.
A Cassidy spokesman told The Epoch Times after the teleconference that the senator “believes that we should be manufacturing more medical supplies at home” rather than in China, and that he thinks “Trump deserves credit for highlighting this issue, and for the initial response that prevented the virus entering the United States for as long as it did.”
Cassidy’s comments came during a hastily arranged teleconference with reporters instead of his usual practice of hosting journalists in his office for regular “pen and pad sessions.”
Cassidy did so after deciding that his office staff in Washington will begin working remotely on March 13, rather than from their normal working quarters in the Hart Senate Office Building.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) also announced that his staff is now working remotely due to concerns about the coronavirus. An unidentified Senate aide tested positive earlier this week for the virus.
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) closed his D.C. office as well, saying it “will remain closed until further notice but open to serve Ohioans by phone, and will be in consistent contact with the Senate’s Attending Physician and medical authorities to determine when it is appropriate to reopen the office.”
Congressional officials announced March 12 that the Capitol complex is closed to the public through the end of March. A decision will then be made on whether to reopen for tours.
In the meantime, only senators, representatives, and congressional staff on official business are allowed access. Both the Senate and House of Representatives are scheduled to be on recess throughout the next week.
Asked by The Epoch Times if he believes the entire Congress should shift to a teleworking status, Cassidy said, “If you can do it. Which my staff can. I told my staff I want to create the ability that people can upload documents, that somebody who is a constituent can send us something, we can review that in real-time, and have an online conversation as we look at the document.”
Cassidy pointed out that the coronavirus to date affects older individuals much more so than younger ones and that most members of his staff are in the latter category.
“I have a bunch of people who are millennials, God bless ’em. If people say bad things about millennials, I love my millennials, they are top-notch people. But they are less likely to get symptoms,” he said.
The problem is that his staff members can have the virus but be asymptomatic, which could be dangerous for older visitors who have underlying health conditions that make them especially vulnerable.
Many of the individuals visiting his Washington office are older, especially those who are military veterans, Cassidy said, so going to teleworking status “is the right decision for my office, and I say that as a physician because as I look at the demographics of people visiting and the demographics of people working for me.”
The Louisiana senator said he still sees value in small group meetings among members of Congress and visitors because “then you can actually practice what CDC is recommending as social distancing, you don’t have to be right on top of each other.”
Federal departments and agencies are also moving to make it easier for government workers to telework instead of coming to their regular duty stations.
Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, both Maryland Democrats who represent substantial federal worker populations, have introduced legislation to encourage agencies to make it easier for employees to work from home.
Contact Mark Tapscott at Mark.Tapscott@epochtimes.nyc