November 24, 2020

CDC Releases Science Agenda for COVID-19

CDC’s new “Science Agenda for COVID-19,” intended to guide the agency’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic over the next three years, describes the key areas of scientific inquiry related to COVID-19 that CDC and its partners will pursue. The goal of the agenda is to broaden the evidence base necessary for successful public health actions, guidance, and policy to reduce SARS-CoV-2 spread and eventually end the COVID-19 pandemic.

The agenda calls for CDC role to continue to provide pandemic leadership and technical expertise, and identifies four main functions for the agency: employing health fundamentals, identifying and implementing public health interventions, developing evidence-based guides and policies, and communicating effectively to encourage protective behaviors and recommended actions. CDC intends the agenda to be flexible enough to respond to new knowledge gaps as they are identified.

The agenda is organized around six priority areas: COVID-19 detection, burden, and impact; transmission of SARS-CoV-2; natural history of SARS-CoV-2 infection; protection in healthcare and non-healthcare settings; prevention, mitigation, and intervention strategies; and social, behavioral, and communication science.

The first priority area relates to epidemiological surveillance, testing, viral genomic sequencing, mathematical modeling, and other tools to gather information about the disease's spread and impact on the population. The agenda also prioritizes assessing the implications of COVID-19 in healthcare services and public health programs. Outcomes of this priority area will underpin CDC and partner organizations' work to understand and mitigate the pandemic.

The second area of priority concerns SARS-CoV-2 transmission and the factors that facilitate the virus's spread in healthcare, workplace, and community settings. Objectives in this field include establishing the finer points of the virus's transmission modes, identifying viral host factors at all stages of the disease, assessing transmission across the spectrum of healthcare and non-healthcare settings, and evaluating potential virus transmission between humans and animals.

The third priority area focuses on discovering the clinical course of SARS-CoV-2 in infected people, including their immune responses. The fourth area assesses the spread of COVID-19 in all workplaces, including the effectiveness of personal protective equipment; the fifth aims to evaluate mitigation strategies across a broad range of communities, settings, and populations. Objectives in the fifth area are to identify the best contract tracing methods and optimize a COVID-19 vaccine.

The sixth and final priority area is dedicated to objectives for public health communication related to COVID-19. These include identifying where people receive their information about the pandemic, optimizing public uptake of recommended behaviors, improving CDC communication, and examining the pandemic's social and mental health impacts.

CDC concludes that "the complexities and uncertainties of the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic require a scientific approach that is purposeful, yet flexible," as well as capabilities and expertise that CDC, along with its international and domestic partners, can provide.