MADISON, WI – U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin today visited the University of Wisconsin-Madison to meet with university faculty and staff working to identify and track coronavirus variants. As part of the visit, Baldwin toured the AIDS Vaccine Research Laboratory and met with scientists who, in partnership with University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics and local and state public health departments, have been conducting genomic surveillance sequencing throughout this pandemic.
The American Rescue Plan, which passed Congress and was signed into law in March, includes $1.75 billion championed by Senator Baldwin for CDC to conduct, expand, and improve activities to sequence genomes, identify mutations, and survey the circulation and transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19.
“We haven’t beaten this pandemic, especially when it comes to emerging variants and mutations of the coronavirus, which represent an ongoing threat to the health and security of our nation,” said Senator Baldwin. “Tracking new variants is vitally important to our ability to combat this virus and get through the pandemic, and I want to applaud the team at the University of Wisconsin for their incredible work. The American Rescue Plan takes an important step in combatting these variants, and provides an investment for CDC to ramp up their efforts on genomic sequencing and surveillance nationwide. I was proud to champion this provision because I know how important it is for us to understand the threat that’s before us and better protect all Americans during this public health crisis.”
"I love the way everyone at UW has jumped into this challenge with a common goal,” said University of Wisconsin–Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank. “We now have more than $60 million in federal funding at work on COVID-19, and we appreciate the Senator's support for research that will help so many people in Wisconsin and beyond."
"We are lucky to have the infrastructure built years ago by UW and federal resources that allowed us to shift so quickly to studying an emerging pandemic. Sequencing has helped us understand the way COVID-19 has spread in Wisconsin, and given us and our partners in state and local health departments the best information possible while they make decisions to help stop further spread," said Thomas Friedrich, professor in the UW School of Veterinary Medicine. Professor Friedrich’s lab began sequencing the genes of virus samples in March 2020 to help track the spread of COVID-19 and watch for the arrival of viral variants in Wisconsin.
The $1.75 billion in the American Rescue Plan can also be used to award grants or cooperative agreements to state, local, tribal, or territorial public health departments to increase sequencing capacity, expand the understanding of coronavirus mutations, and build analytical capacity in health departments across the country. In addition, funds can be used to enhance and expand the informatics capabilities of the public health workforce, and to award grants for the construction, alteration or renovation of facilities to improve genomic sequencing and surveillance capabilities at the state and local level.
Video footage of today’s meeting and lab tour is available for download here.