Two North Jersey political leaders are working with local medical professionals as the the coronavirus continues to spread in the U.S.
Sen. Bob Menendez on Feb. 27 called for a stronger federal response while touring a lab in North Jersey where medical officials are developing a test for the virus.
“The United States is capable of answering any challenge—so long as we have the necessary resources and strategy to succeed,” said Sen. Menendez.
Developing A Test
The remarks were delivered during a tour of Hackensack Meridian Health’s Center for Discovery and Innovation (CDI) lab, where infectious disease experts and researchers are developing a test for the COVID-19 coronavirus.
“Coronavirus is already in the U.S. and we are preparing for cases in New Jersey,” said Robert C. Garrett, the chief executive officer of Hackensack Meridian Health. “We are positioning ourselves as the leader to mitigate its effects, and also develop innovations which will help in the days and weeks to come.”
Two diagnostic tests for the coronavirus have been developed at the CDI lab, one recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the other by scientists in Germany. Once the diagnostics are tested with a live sample of the virus, Hackensack Meridian hospitals will be able to test individuals experiencing symptoms on-site instead of sending samples to a CDC lab.
“Timely diagnostics are critical and we are veterans in this kind of event,” said David S. Perlin, Ph.D., the chief scientific officer and senior vice president of the CDI. “Our rapid diagnostic lab has previously been part of the 2003 SARS response, and the 2009 H1N1 response—and most recently the Candida auris outbreak.”
The tour was followed on March 1 by a meeting helmed by Rep. Josh Gottheimer with health officials from Hackensack University Medical Center, New Bridge Medical Center, Holy Name Medical Center and Atlantic Health to discuss coronavirus coordination, response, and preparedness across North Jersey.
“While it is important to address the coronavirus issue on a federal level, the impact and solutions come from everyone here on the local level,” said Gottheimer. “We need to make sure our hospitals and health facilities have everything they need ranging from personal protective equipment for employees, comprehensive quarantine plans, and the necessary medicine and materials to treat patients afflicted with this virus.”
“As the situation continues to unfold and we learn more, it is critical now more than ever that the state’s health experts collaborate and share information to respond to and mitigate this growing public health crisis,” said Suraj Saggar, Chief Infectious Disease Specialist at Holy Name Medical Center. “Today’s discussion with Congressman Gottheimer certainly put us on that path and we look forward to working with our elected officials and colleagues to ensure we all remain vigilant and prepared to respond to potential cases of Coronavirus in New Jersey.”
Full Funding Needed
Both members of Congress advocated for more funding to combat the virus. Recently, Gottheimer pushed for a boost in federal investment to combat coronavirus and prevent the spread of the virus within the U.S., by urging Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to request emergency supplemental appropriations from Congress.
The bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, which Gottheimer is a co-chair of, called on Congress to form a unified response after the World Health Organization raised its global spread and impact risk alert of the coronavirus to ‘very high’ on Feb. 28.
“It’s time for the country, Congressional leadership, and the Administration, to rise above partisan political fights and come together to fight a potential outbreak of the disease here in the United States. With Americans lives on the line, this must be a bipartisan priority,” the caucus stated in a press release.
Additionally, Sen. Menendez urged the Trump Administration to fully fund pandemic preparedness and response efforts in light of the global outbreak and warned its annual proposed funding cut could threaten the government’s ability to effectively combat the spread of the deadly virus.
The Trump Administration proposed cuts to programs and offices that spearhead efforts to respond to this and other pandemics, including a 2020 budget proposal that cut critical pandemic response programs by nearly 20%.
Menendez wants Congress to pass the plan offered by Senate Democrats, costing $8.5 billion, going to bolster the CDC’s efforts to combat the virus, vaccine research and ensure the federal government will be able to reimburse states who are devoting resources such as personnel, lab equipment and medical supplies to fight the virus.
“I will continue to use every tool at my disposal to protect the public health of New Jersey families and all Americans,” he stated. “Together, we can prevent COVID-19 from turning into a full-blown public health crisis.”