The recent and increasingly rapid spread of COVID-19 will present formidable challenges in the effort to contain the outbreak and protect the health and safety of our citizens.
The Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate (DHS S&T) is working diligently to support and inform the efforts of our federal agency partners and health organizations about the latest developments in news and research related to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as identify the gaps in our knowledge about the virus that require the attention of the medical emergency response community.
Many knowledge gaps about the virus directly affect DHS policy and operations, both in response to the outbreak and normal operations that may be impacted by the outbreak. Key knowledge gaps include:
- Human infectious dose – how much of a dose does it take to make a person sick?
- The ability of COVID-19 to be transmitted by contact
- The efficacy of different decontamination solutions and methods
- The personal protective equipment that’s effective against the virus, and who should be using it
To help us bridge these knowledge gaps, we have implemented the Probabilistic Analysis of National Threats, Hazards and Risks (PANTHR) Program and the Hazard Awareness & Characterization Technology Center, which is tracking the COVID-19 outbreak, coordinating efforts with the DHS Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, and ramping up research to support our response as the outbreak intensifies. PANTHR is active on several fronts in response to the outbreak:
- Developed a COVID-19 Master Question List (MQL) that identifies current knowledge and research questions to help inform decision-making in response to the pandemic. Maintained primarily for our DHS components as a rapid reference to authoritative technical information, this is also disseminated across the Homeland Security Enterprise, including the World Health Organization. Our PANTHR staff is updating the MQL weekly to highlight key information that is developing about the virus and raise important questions that still need to be answered. You can view our current MQL here. The blue highlighted text indicates new information and questions from the previous week. We will post an updated MQL every week, so check back to learn new information.
- Conducting more detailed analysis of information in the MQL to answer Requests for Information from our DHS component and interagency partners to inform their operations. As an example, this included initiating a detailed literature review on environmental stability to better understand the hazards posed by incoming shipments from China.
- Conducting laboratory studies at the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center to produce data on environmental stability of the virus and disinfection of contaminated surfaces.
Visit the DHS website at http://www.dhs.gov/coronavirus for more information about the COVID-19 pandemic and the federal government’s response. DHS and its components, including S&T, will be continuously updating content to keep you informed. For a deeper dive into what our partner agencies, including the Department of Health and Human Services, the lead federal agency for the federal government’s response to the pandemic, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and USA.gov websites.