ITHACA, N.Y.—United States Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) hosted a press conference at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine to push to pass the COVID-19 and Pandemic Response Centers of Excellence Act.

The COVID-19 and Pandemic Response Centers of Excellence Act was designed to provide funding to academic medical centers as research facilities that would share information between the partnered excellence centers. Academic medical centers have been one of the backbones of the battle with COVID-19, like work done at the Parrish Lab at the College of Veterinary Medicine on Cornell’s campus, Gillibrand noted, and investing federal funding to establish an infrastructure that can share pertinent information is the best approach moving forward.

Gillibrand was joined by Cornell University President Martha Pollack; Dr. François Elvinger, Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine’s executive director of the Animal Health Diagnostic Center; Dr. Alexander Travis, chair of the Department of Public and Ecosystem Health; Shawna Black, chair of the Tompkins County Legislature; and New York State Assemblywoman Anna Kelles.

In the last few weeks as the uptick in cases in Tompkins County has resulted in an 18% increase in hospitalizations, Gillibrand reminded attendees that the ability to respond to the virus is to evolve with it.

“The work done here at the College of Veterinary Medicine’s Parrish Lab to study the structure of the COVID-19 spike protein that the virus uses to gain entry into the cell is helping us gain invaluable insights into the way this virus works,” Gillibrand said at the press conference.

She went on to say that the valuable insight provided by academic medical centers combined with clinical experience with support from governments, public health organizations and private industry partners are what stay at the forefront of science and medicine and are what will help combat future pandemics and other health crises.

The legislation Gillibrand announced alongside Maryland Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA) back in July would create centers of excellence with administration programs in the Department of Health and Human Services to facilitate collaborative and shared information between medical centers within the program.

If passed, the legislation would provide $10 million to at least 10 academic medical centers as well as authorize $500 million total for the program which HHS would use to establish proactive work in regards to COVID in terms of patient care and recovery, combating health disparities and building readiness to conduct additional vaccine research trials.

“I call for the fiscal year 2022 Department of Health and Human Services appropriations bill to include this funding necessary to establish the COVID-19 Pandemic Response Centers of Excellence Act, That funding combined with the bipartisan bicameral bill will leave hospitals across our state nation better prepared to respond to COVID in future emergencies. The spread of the omicron variant is a reminder that not only is COVID not over, but our ability to respond to the health crisis must evolve alongside it. Centers like this one can help us do that on a state and national level. If we give it support, it will help us keep fighting for this response and help our healthcare workers protect our families,” Gillibrand said in closing.

Zoë Freer-Hessler

Zoë Freer-Hessler is the digital editor/reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Joining in November 2021, she has covered a wide range of topics related to local news. She can be reached at,...