Health

The federal Covid-19 response will continue if there’s a shutdown, mostly


A version of this story first appeared in D.C. Diagnosis, STAT’s weekly newsletter about the politics and policy of health and medicine. Sign up here to receive it in your inbox.

The federal government’s efforts to address the Covid-19 pandemic will continue even if the government shuts down this week, a Biden administration official tells STAT — but key health agencies will still face major staff shortages.

The Senate has until Thursday night to prevent a government shutdown, and things are not looking good: Late Monday, Republicans blocked a procedural vote as part of a standoff related to raising the government’s debt limit.

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Until now, even as the clock ticked down, the Biden administration stayed tight lipped about which elements of the Covid-19 response would be impacted by a shutdown. Representatives for state and local health officials as well as governors all told STAT Monday that the federal government hadn’t shared any formal guidance on what a shutdown would mean.

Now, the Department of Health and Human Services is promising that they’ll keep the pandemic response running by relying on exemptions that let officials keep working if their jobs help keep people safe. Here’s what we know.

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Overall, 43% of staff in the Department of Health and Human Services will be furloughed, a Biden administration official told STAT.

“That is the last thing we need as we continue to confront the pandemic,” the official added.

The National Institutes of Health will be hit particularly hard.

While the Biden administration official told STAT that the NIH’s work supporting Covid-19 R&D will continue, only 25% of NIH staff will be able to keep working during a shutdown, according to recently posted agency shutdown plans.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will also see a great deal of change. Less than half of the agency’s staff will be able to keep working during a shutdown, according to the agency’s shutdown plan. The Biden official noted, however, that the agency will “continue supporting the Covid-19 response,” including “maintaining laboratory functions and the agency’s 24/7 emergency operations center.”

The Food and Drug Administration is in better shape. The Biden administration official said it will keep up anything “related to authorizations, any drug and medical product shortages, and fraudulent, counterfeit and misbranded products.”

Sixty nine percent of FDA staff will keep working in the event of a shutdown, according to the agency’s shutdown plans.


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