Peters, Johnson Seek Information on Federal Response to the Coronavirus Outbreak

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-MI) and Ron Johnson (R-WI), Ranking Member and Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, are pressing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to provide details on the Administration’s strategy to protect public health and homeland security from the emerging Coronavirus outbreak, which has infected thousands of people in China and killed more than 100.

“The current Coronavirus outbreak that originated in Wuhan, China is not only a public health risk, but also a threat to our homeland security,” said Senator Peters. “As Ranking Member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, keeping Michiganders and all Americans safe is my top priority. I am closely monitoring this situation to ensure that federal and state agencies have the resources needed to limit the spread of this deadly virus.”

A 2016 DHS Office of Inspector General report identified a number of deficiencies to the U.S. government’s response to the 2014 Ebola outbreak. As the death toll rises in China and infections spread to the United States, Europe and Australia, Peters and Johnson are working to ensure that those deficiencies have been rectified and that the nation is prepared to respond to this and other pandemics. In their letter, the Senators pressed DHS to lay out the Administration’s strategy to limit the spread of the infection, proposed actions to protect front-line screeners and emergency responders from contracting the virus, and any efforts made to coordinate the response between relevant federal agencies and state and local governments.

DHS, in close coordination with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), plays a critical role in our nation’s preparations for and response to pandemics. The Homeland Security Secretary is the principal official charged with domestic incident management and is responsible for coordinating the federal government’s response efforts. DHS’s Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction (CWMD) is also responsible for sharing information on the spread of the virus and coordinating federal response activities with the White House and other Cabinet-level officials.

Text of the letter is copied below and available here:

January 28, 2020


The Honorable Chad F. Wolf
Acting Secretary
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
246 Murray Lane, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20528


Dear Acting Secretary Wolf:

We write today to inquire about your Department’s strategy to contain the spread of the emerging 2019 Novel Coronavirus (Coronavirus). On January 21, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed the first case of Coronavirus in the U.S. The CDC now reports that there are multiple Coronavirus cases inside the U.S.

In China, the Coronavirus quickly infected thousands of people and caused multiple deaths in less than a month. As of January 27, 2020, the virus has infected close to 3,000 people and caused at least 81 deaths. The CDC is investigating 110 other potential cases that span 26 states in the U.S. Additional reports indicate that the virus has spread to other locations, including Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Australia, Cambodia, Canada, France, Japan, Malaysia, Nepal, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam.

In a January 2016 report, the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General concluded that insufficient interagency coordination in the 2014 Ebola response exposed system-wide gaps in ensuring all airport travelers received full health screenings. We want to ensure that these deficiencies have been addressed.

To understand the Department’s actions and interagency coordination to limit the spread of the Coronavirus, we respectfully request that you provide the following information:

1. Does the Department currently have a Coronavirus response plan?

  • If so, please describe and provide documentation regarding your response plan, including the process used to determine where to implement airport traveler screening.
  • How do you plan to detect infected travelers entering the U.S. through ports of entry that do not employ screening?
  • How are you ensuring that front-line screeners and responders are properly trained and complying with implemented screening requirements?
  • How are you ensuring that front-line screeners and responders have access to the proper supplies to provide the required screenings?

2. How is your Department coordinating the response between other relevant federal agencies, as well as state, local, territorial, and tribal (SLTT) authorities?

  • Is this construct governed by a memorandum of understanding or other agreement? If so, please produce it.
  • Which federal agency is the lead for this coordination?
  • Are you providing updates to SLTT public health and safety officials? If so, please describe that process.

Your response is requested as soon as possible, but no later than 5:00 p.m. on January 31, 2020.