January 07, 2022

As Cases Rise By The Thousands In Erie County, Senator Gillibrand Visits University At Buffalo To Call For Creation Of A Coordinated Network Of Covid-19 And Pandemic Response Centers; University At Buffalo Prime Example Of Academic Center That Could Help Prepare For Future Variants And Defend Against Public Health Emergencies

Over The Past Two Weeks, Newly Reported COVID-19 Cases Increased By 296% In Erie County Alone; Rapid Spread of Mutations Like Those in Omicron Continues to Threaten Progress Combating COVID-19; Gillibrand’s Proposed Centers of Excellence Poised to Respond to the Highly Contagious Omicron and Future Variants

Today, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand held a press conference at the University at Buffalo to push for the passage of the bipartisan COVID-19 and Pandemic Response Centers of Excellence Act, which would deliver funding to establish COVID-19 and Pandemic Response Centers of Excellence programs at academic medical centers like the University at Buffalo’s across the country. Gillibrand was joined by Congressman Brian Higgins (D-NY-26) and University at Buffalo Vice President for Health Sciences Dr. Allison Brashear. The rapid spread of the highly contagious Omicron variant in Erie County highlights the need for forward-thinking federal investments that would provide direct support to our nation’s emergency response preparedness so we are better equipped when the next crisis hits. Over the past two weeks, newly reported COVID-19 cases in Erie County have increased by 296%, and the county’s high test positivity rate indicates that cases could still be significantly undercounted. This legislation would improve our ability to swiftly respond to new variants by authorizing the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to designate eligible academic medical centers as “Centers of Excellence” to address COVID–19. The legislation would authorize $500,000,000 total for the program and would provide $10,000,000 to at least ten academic medical centers for real-time response efforts to COVID-19 and for future pandemic preparedness.

“The Omicron variant is spreading rapidly in Erie County and I commend the frontline staff at the University at Buffalo for their hard work protecting New Yorkers. This new and rapid spread of Omicron is a reminder that tackling COVID-19 is – and will be – an ongoing effort. Viruses evolve and our ability to respond must evolve alongside them – whether that’s our ability to monitor and meet the needs of COVID long-haulers, track new variants like Omicron, or prepare for the next public health emergency,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. “The bipartisan, bicameral COVID-19 and Pandemic Response Centers of Excellence Act would empower academic centers at the epicenter of research and clinical operations, like the University at Buffalo, and provide critical startup funding to strengthen our nation’s emergency response preparedness as we battle the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, improve our response to new variants and build resiliency against any future pandemics or public health crises.”

Coronavirus has been with us for decades – first SARS, then MERS and now COVID-19 – and it will likely be with us in some form for years to come. We can’t be in continuous catch-up mode.  Experts in this field, like those right here at UB, are partners in this fight and can help in the nation’s pandemic preparedness effort.  Investments today will protect the health, safety and lives of people tomorrow,” said Congressman Brian Higgins, an original co-sponsor of the bill.

At the Jacobs School, we have been at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19 in Western New York and beyond. Our infectious disease experts have advised state leaders, our faculty are doing genetic sequencing with each new variant, and we are conducting testing and providing treatment.  This legislation will enable us to expand our life sciences research and improve our response to the current COVID-19 crisis and be better prepared for future pandemics,” said University at Buffalo Vice President for Health Sciences Dr. Allison Brashear.

Gillibrand’s bipartisan, bicameral bill, which is led in the House by Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez (D-NY-07) and Congressman John Katko (R-NY-24), would designate academic medical centers like the University at Buffalo’s Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences as research and communication hubs that would improve the United States’ ability to swiftly respond to emerging public health threats, track new variants, and continue battling COVID-19. Specifically, the COVID-19 and Pandemic Response Centers of Excellence Act would create a Centers of Excellence administration program at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to improve and expedite our nation’s fight against COVID-19 and future pandemics. This forward-thinking federal investment would provide direct support and fortify our nation’s emergency response preparedness by supporting cutting-edge research, education, patient care, and community outreach related to COVID-19 and future pandemics. Academic medical centers are already at the epicenter of integrating research, clinical operations, vaccine development, and education, and are uniquely positioned to serve as a bridge between government and public health.

The Centers of Excellence model provides a holistic approach to care and has the flexibility to leverage public-private partnerships that will allow the United States to improve dissemination of clinician training, infection prevention, public health surveillance and outcomes tracking, public outreach and education, clinical research, and development for testing, treatment, and vaccines. This bill would authorize the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to award grants, contracts, or cooperative agreements to academic medical centers and would seek to expedite their proactive work on:

  • COVID-19 patient care and survivor recovery
  • Mental health resources for frontline health care workers
  • Combating health care disparities and promoting health equity
  • Robust public health endangerment research and education
  • Future readiness to conduct diverse clinical trial research and vaccine research 

The COVID-19 and Pandemic Response Centers of Excellence Act is endorsed by the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA), AARP, Associated Medical Schools of New York, Solve M.E/CFS Initiative, Baylor Scott & White Health, Cornell University, Houston Methodist, Johns Hopkins University & Medicine, Louisiana State University, Mass General Brigham, NYU Langone Health, Rutgers - The State University of New Jersey, Stony Brook University, The Ohio State University, The University of Utah, University of Iowa Health Care, Washington University, Atrium Health, UNC Health & UNC School of Medicine, The State University of New York and New York-Presbyterian, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), University of Rochester Medical Center, and Columbia University Irving Medical Center.