Senator Dr. Richard Pan’s Measure to Create Viral Surveillance Program Unanimously Passes Senate Health Committee

Bill would improve viral surveillance across California, establish hub to analyze potential threats

April 20, 2022

SACRAMENTO – Senate Bill 1296 authored by State Senator Dr. Richard Pan to improve California’s viral surveillance passed the Senate Health Committee on a unanimous vote and it will now head to the Senate’s Appropriations Committee.

COVID-19 has exposed the limited viral surveillance capabilities of the United States. America’s viral surveillance efforts lag behind dozens of peers, limiting our ability to detect and respond to emerging variants and viruses of concern. SB 1296 empowers California to lead the nation in viral surveillance by deploying our many world-class sequencing and monitoring facilities towards the common goal of viral surveillance, coordinated through the California Department of Public Health.

Dr. Richard Pan, state senator and pediatrician said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the lack of organized viral surveillance capacity in both America and California. This deficit put us behind our peer nations, where they were able to more-quickly identify and more rapidly-respond to emerging variants during the pandemic. This shortcoming is unacceptable given that California is home to world-class viral surveillance and genomic sequencing facilities. SB 1296 creates the needed framework for an organized viral surveillance system to protect Californians against emerging viruses.”

Megan Crumpler, Public Health Laboratory Director, Orange County and Long Beach Public Health Laboratories said: “Our laboratories perform testing for state and federal surveillance programs such as COVIDNet for variant surveillance by whole genome sequencing and the CDPH Respiratory Laboratory Network for influenza. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the critical need to bolster this capacity. Current surveillance programs are passive, and Californians need a surveillance program that is proactive rather than reactive.”

Chris Longhurst, M.D., Chief Medical Officer, University of California San Diego Health said: “Over the past two years, we have been in a state of perpetual emergency with a reactive strategy to new COVID variants.  We must now take a more proactive approach and apply our lessons learned to stay ahead of any new variants and viruses that emerge in the future. Our healthcare systems and communities must transition to a ‘new normal’ where COVID is treated as one of many endemic viruses, and prepare ourselves to outsmart the next pandemic. UC believes Dr. Pan’s bill establishing a Viral Surveillance Hub will help achieve this through the early detection of future variants and viral threats, allowing public health systems time to prepare and react.”

SB 1296 is sponsored by ProtectUS and supported by the California Academy of Family Physicians, California Association of Public Health Laboratory Directors, Public Health Institute, and the University of California. It is part of the Vaccine Work Group’s legislative package which includes: AB 1797, to modernize California’s Immunization Registry; SB 866, the Teens Choose Vaccines Act; SB 1479, which provides schools resources to implement COVID-19 testing plans; AB 2098, establishing accountability for licensed medical professionals spreading disinformation; and SB 1018, establishing transparency for online platforms.

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