Aug. 19, 2021 — The CDC is setting up a new hub to watch for early warning signs of future infectious outbreaks, the agency announced Wednesday.
Epidemiologists learn about emerging outbreaks by tracking information, and the quality of their analysis depends on their access to high-quality data. Gaps in existing systems became obvious during the COVID-19 pandemic as experts were challenged by the crisis.
The new Center for Forecasting and Outbreak Analytics will, in part, work like a meteorological office that tracks weather-related changes, only the center will track possible flareups in infectious disease.
The day after he took office, President Joe Biden pledged to modernize the country’s system for public health data. First funding for the initiative will come from the American Rescue Plan.
“We are excited to have the expertise and ability to model and forecast public health concerns and share information in real-time to activate governmental, private sector, and public actions in anticipation of threats both domestically and abroad,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, said in a statement.
Devastating Toll of COVID-19
Many world leaders are now responding to the destruction of the health crisis and are investing in new infrastructure. A July report from a G-20 panel calls for $75 billion in international financing for pandemic prevention and preparedness — twice as much as current spending levels.
Testifying in a congressional hearing, epidemiologist Caitlin Rivers, PhD, from the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore, voiced the importance of never being caught unprepared again.
“We were unprepared to manage the emergence and swift global spread of the novel coronavirus, and we were late to recognize when it reached our shores. Those delays set us on a worse trajectory than we might have otherwise faced,” she said.
Rivers will join the new center’s leadership team as associate director working alongside Marc Lipsitch, PhD, director for science.
“The new center will meet a longstanding need for a national focal point to analyze data and forecast the trajectory of pandemics with the express goal of informing and improving decisions with the best available evidence,” Lipsitch said in the CDC’s news release announcing the new center.
Experts will map what data sources are needed to assist disease modelers and public health emergency responders tracking emerging problems that they can share with decision-makers. They will expand tracking capability and data sharing using open-source software and application programming with existing and new data streams from the public health ecosystem and elsewhere.
Dylan George, PhD, who will be the center’s director for operations, said in the CDC news release that the center will provide critical information to communities so they can respond.
“Pandemics threaten our families and communities at speed and scale — our response needs to move at speed and scale, too,” he said.