Press Release

As Avian Flu Spreads To Cattle, Gillibrand Convenes Public Health Experts In NYC To Call On White House To Strengthen Interagency Coordination To Respond To Outbreak

May 20, 2024

New Strain of Avian Flu Infecting American Cattle For First Time; First Report of Cow-To-Human Avian Flu Transmission in April

As avian flu proliferates nationwide – and with cases now confirmed among humans and cattle – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) held a press conference in NYC to call on the White House to share its coordination efforts to control the outbreak and prepare for potential further spread. Gillibrand was joined by physicians and public health experts to discuss the rapidly evolving situation. The CDC confirmed one case of transmission of avian flu to humans via dairy cows in Texas last month. Avian flu has not been detected in New York’s dairy herds, but given the state’s large dairy industry, Gillibrand is concerned about potential spread to the state and nationwide.

“The recent outbreak of avian flu poses a direct threat to rural America and our public health. New York is home to many poultry and dairy farmers, and avian flu has already forced many farmers to make hard choices that affect their livestock and prices for consumers,” said Senator Gillibrand. “I convened public health experts in NYC to call on the White House Office of Pandemic Preparedness and Response Policy to disclose what guidance they have released to agencies and states, what was their initial assessment of the outbreak, and what steps have they taken since the outbreak began. It’s time to use the lessons we learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and strengthen our defenses before it is too late. As the wild bird migration continues this spring, I stand ready to work with our federal partners to contain this outbreak.” 

Gillibrand is calling on the White House Office of Pandemic Preparedness and Response Policy to give information regarding its role in coordinating amongst federal agencies to continue to provide the public and state agencies with up-to-date, and accurate information on the spread of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI), also known as H5N1.

Under Governor Hochul’s leadership, the State Health Department remains vigilant in its efforts to keep New Yorkers safe from the H5N1 virus (avian influenza). I thank Senator Gillibrand for addressing this issue and being such a good partner,” State Health Commissioner Dr. James McDonald said. “This virus, also known as avian influenza, has not infected anyone in New York.  The overall risk locally and nationally remains low. New Yorkers should know the Department has been preparing and coordinating with our federal, state, and local partners, including the State Department of Agriculture and Markets. Additionally, we have incorporated lessons learned from prior infectious disease threats to optimize our preparedness.   We remain vigilant and ask New Yorkers to remain alert, stay informed and enjoy their summer.”

“The Mount Sinai Health System is committed to meeting the needs of the public no matter what the health threat. Our Center for Healthcare Readiness brings together academic, clinical, and operational experts because threats including terror events, climate change, and high consequence infectious diseases have a direct impact on the health of the public” said Brendan Carr, MD, MA, MS, Chief Executive Officer of the Mount Sinai Health System. “The nation’s health security is an enormous component of our national security, and large health systems such as ours are reliant upon effective planning, coordination, and communication across the public and private sector. We must remain committed to these goals and I thank Senator Gillibrand for highlighting this important issue.”

“NYC Health + Hospitals/Elmhurst was the first hospital in New York City to see the devastating effects of Covid-19, and thanks to City, state, and federal funding we have a trained workforce versed in special pathogens patient management able to provide cutting edge critical care to any patient,” said Helen Arteaga Landaverde, Ph.D, CEO of Elmhurst Hospital in Queens. “Senator Gillibrand’s support and advocacy has been critical to our readiness at the frontline. My hospital and the Elmhurst community thanks her.”

“NYC Health + Hospitals has been on the frontline of every public health crisis, and funding is so important to ensure that we are prepared for the any future health crisis,” said Eric Wei, MD, Chief Quality Officer and Senior Vice President at NYC Health + Hospitals. “I want to thank Senator Gillibrand for her commitment to ensuring that our health system has the resources we need to serve New Yorkers in need, today and in the future.”

The full text of the letter is available HERE and below:

Dear Dr. Friedrichs,

Since January 2022, the United States has grappled with the spread of Highly Pathogenic

Avian Influenza (HPAI) among commercial and backyard poultry flocks. This has led to a cascade of effects, including higher food prices and billions of dollars in indemnity payments to affected farmers. However, of greater concern is the recent spread of the virus to dairy cows and cattle. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the March 25, 2024 infection was the first documented case of HPAI spreading to cattle. Subsequently, the CDC confirmed the first human transmission of the disease on April 1, 2024. So far, there have only been 36 dairy herds across nine states that have confirmed cases of HPAI.

The evolving risk of this disease requires a multi-agency response including the United States Department of Agriculture, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, and state and local partners. The spread of this virus to humans through dairy cattle is a novel situation that requires a coordinated effort amongst agencies and the White House, especially at a critical time when our healthcare system is still recovering from COVID19. Recent reporting has strongly suggested that hospitals are not ready to take on another pandemic.

When the Office of Pandemic Preparedness and Response Policy (OPPR) was established by Congress in December 2022, it was tasked with playing a critical role in the Federal Government’s pandemic preparedness and response efforts. To better understand OPPR’s role in addressing the HPAI outbreak, please provide a response to the following questions no later than June 7, 2024.

  1. What outreach and coordination efforts has OPPR undertaken with state and local entities, as well as international partners, since the first confirmed transmission of HPAI to humans on April 1, 2024?
  2. Has OPPR provided any guidance to federal agencies on ways to streamline the response to the HPAI spread amongst cows and humans?
  3. What was OPPR’s initial assessment of HPAI and how has your assessment and response changed as it continues to spread?
  4. What preparation, coordination, or support does OPPR give agencies in the event of a spreading novel or concerning disease as with the case of HPAI?

I also urge you to work with colleagues in the Department of Defense and Intelligence Community to monitor the spread of the outbreak overseas to ensure your office is able to account for any development in the virus abroad.

I look forward to working with OPPR as we address this outbreak at this critical point in time during America’s recovery from COVID-19.