Bennet Urges HHS to Take Steps to Protect Olympic Athletes, Tourists from Zika

Washington, D.C. - Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet today requested information from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on what steps it is taking to protect Americans traveling to Brazil for the Summer Olympic Games from contracting the Zika virus. Bennet wrote to HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell to urge the agency to work closely with the U.S. Olympic Committee on the issue. More than 500 athletes and thousands of American tourists are planning trips to Brazil for the Games, where close to 100,000 confirmed cases of Zika have been identified.

"Concern over the spread of the Zika virus has caused many Americans to alter their summer travel plans," Bennet said. "For those still traveling to Brazil for the Olympics and other areas where Zika is spreading, we need to ensure that they have appropriate, up-to-date information about how to protect themselves from contracting the virus."

Bennet has helped lead the fight to beef up the federal government's efforts to combat the Zika virus. Earlier this month, Bennet and his Senate colleagues approved $1.1 billion in emergency funding to help combat the virus. Leading up to the vote, he pressed Congressional leaders in the House and Senate to consider and pass emergency funding before current funding dries up. While the House only passed a bill with $622 million, Bennet is continuing to fight for more funding.

In February, he joined 45 senators in urging the Administration to coordinate an interagency response plan to address the spread of the Zika virus both at home and abroad. Following the Administration's request for $1.9 billion in emergency research funding, Bennet and a group of senators introduced a bill to fund the request and called on the Senate Appropriations Committee to quickly approve the funding. In April, he joined his Senate colleagues in urging Senate leaders to immediately pass the emergency supplemental funding request to help combat the Zika outbreak.

Earlier this year, Bennet visited the CDC's Division for Vector-Borne Diseases in Fort Collins, where he toured the facility and received a briefing from researchers about their work to combat the Zika virus. In 2010, Bennet prevented funding cuts proposed by the administration that would have virtually eliminated the vector-borne diseases program that is largely run out of the Fort Collins facility.

The United States Olympic Committee is headquartered in Colorado Springs. Bennet is the co-chair of the Congressional Olympic and Paralympic Caucus.

Full text of the letter:

May 25, 2016

Dear Secretary Burwell:

With the advent of the Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games in Brazil, I write to inquire about the measures that the Department of Health and Human Services is undertaking to work with the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) to ensure that the over 500 U.S. Olympians and thousands of American tourists are protected against the spread of Zika.

With less than 100 days until the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil has confirmed nearly 100,000 cases of Zika and close to 5,000 cases of confirmed or suspected microcephaly. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has now confirmed the link between Zika virus and microcephaly. It has also associated the virus with neurological disorders such as Guillain-Barre Syndrome.

As the CDC continues to lead the Zika virus response efforts, the CDC Division of Vector-Borne Diseases and Colorado State University's Biosecurity Level 3 Vaccine Manufacturing Facility-both located in Fort Collins, Colorado-are at the forefront of combating the disease. The research and collaboration with government, academia, and the private sector will make it possible to fight this devastating virus and prevent its further spread.

Last week, I joined a bipartisan majority in the Senate to provide $1.1 billion in funding to help combat the Zika outbreak. We will continue to fight for the full $1.9 billion that the Administration requested to protect Colorado and American families, particularly children and pregnant women, from the virus.

While the research continues to advance, we must ensure there are immediate efforts being taken to work with the USOC and protect those participating in the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to working with you on this issue.


Michael F. Bennet
U.S. Senator