UO experts submit recommendations on preparing for next pandemic to Senate HELP Committee

On June 9, U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) released a white paper, entitled “Preparing for the Next Pandemic.”  The chairman called for feedback from the public on the five recommendations outlined in the paper. The area of focus are 1) tests, treatments, and vaccines; 2) disease surveillance; 3) stockpiles, distribution, and surges; 4) public health capabilities; and 5) coordination of federal agencies during a public health emergency.

Researchers at the University of Oregon responded to this call. Several of the submittals emphasized the role of universities as part of preparations for the next pandemic.

Public health capabilities and agency coordination: To improve state and local capacity to respond and improve coordination of federal agencies during a public health emergency, UO Chief Resilience Officer and Associate Vice President for Safety and Risk Services André Le Duc and Director of the Institute for Policy Research and Engagement (IPRE) Robert Parker, alongside the IPRE’s Co-Director of Research Benjamin Clark, provided their expertise to Congress.

As the founder of the Disaster Resilient Universities® (DRU) Network, Le Duc submitted a letter conveying the contributions of the nation’s institutions of higher education (IHEs) in emergency management at the local, state, and federal level.

As a leader in the development of community and organizational resilience, Le Duc brought together the DRU Network and the National Center for Campus Public Safety (NCCPS) in 2015 to conduct the first national needs assessment of emergency management programs at IHEs in the United States. The assessment produced five recommendations, which Le Duc urged Congress to adopt.

For Le Duc, “[t]his interdisciplinary approach to campus risk management, public safety, and emergency preparedness is simple and effective; it leverages our key asset, our people, by connecting and unifying knowledge, skills, and technical assistance to address ever-changing vulnerabilities at universities and colleges.”

Through their work with the IPRE, Parker and Clark wrote a letter encouraging Congress to support a number of programs and policies to assist the country in a more rapid recovery and a more resilient future, including massive investments in testing and tracing and investments in coordination of the economic recovery by increasing support for regional resiliency coordination bodies, regional business recovery centers, Economic Development Administration (EDA) university centers for economic development, and AmeriCorps.

In supporting their recommendations, Parker and Clark shared two white papers they have co-authored the UO Professor of Practice and Senior Director of the Oregon Economic Forum Tim Duy and others, which are guiding their current thinking on the pandemic, on testing and tracing in the efforts to reopen Oregon and on a framework on economic recovery and resilience.

Disease Surveillance: In separate submittals, Architecture professor Kevin Van Den Wymelenberg and Dean and Vice Provost for the Division of Global Engagement Dennis C. Galvan shared their work that can help expand the ability to detect, identify, model, and track emerging infectious diseases.

Van Den Wymelenburg, director of the Institute for Health in the Built Environment and the Biology & the Built Environment Center, submitted a letter summarizing his team’s research related to safely reopening buildings by monitoring building microbes.

“We cannot test every person every day for coronavirus, but we just might be able to test every building every day,” wrote Van Den Wymelenburg.

In May 2020, under Galvan’s guidance as the executive director of the Global Studies Institute, the University of Oregon partnered with five universities and colleges to establish the Student Corps Combat Coronavirus (SCCC).

Galvan shared in the letter he submitted, “Students hunger for an education that matters, for coursework and degrees that help them make a difference in the messy world they will inherit. The current pandemic, and efforts to prepare for the next pandemic, offer an opportunity to inspire students, especially as we link courses to coronavirus mitigation and safe economic reopening.”