The US House Committee on Energy and Commerce is currently considering H.R. 6666, the “Covid-19 Testing, Reaching, And Contacting Everyone (TRACE) Act.”

The bill would appropriate $100 billion in grants to “eligible entities” (including health centers, medical centers, non-profits, public high schools, and others) for diagnostic testing for COVID-19—“to trace and monitor the contacts of infected individuals, and to support the quarantine of such contacts” through mobile health units—as well as home-based testing and quarantine services.

The text of the bill is surprisingly brief and does not go into much detail on how the mechanics of testing and contact tracing will work. Here’s what we do know (and what we don’t):

  • There is no specific mention of homeschooling in this bill.
  • As of right now, there is no provision in the bill that makes testing mandatory for anyone, or that requires anyone to receive immunizations. We will be keeping a close eye on the bill moving forward to make sure that mandatory requirements are not added surreptitiously.
  • While going to a TRACE entity for testing is voluntary, TRACE grants are only awarded to entities who agree to provide diagnostic testing, tracing and monitoring of contacts, and quarantine support. If you voluntarily accept testing at a TRACE entity, you may also need to accept contact tracing as part of the testing plan.
  • The CDC has issued guidance to local health departments on what “contact tracing” means. If a patient has a suspected or confirmed infection, public health staff work with the patient to help them recall everyone with whom they have had close contact while they may have been infectious. The staff then warn those individuals that they may have been exposed. According to the CDC, contacts are only to be told that they may have been exposed to someone who is infected (the identity of the individual is not supposed to be disclosed, to protect privacy). Those contacts are then encouraged to stay home and maintain social distance, and can also be provided with education, information, and support.
  • Having said that, the bill itself does not define “trace and monitor,” nor does it expressly refer to the current CDC guidance. There is also a chance that the CDC could amend its own guidance in the future.
  • Subsection (e) of the bill says it does not change or override the privacy and confidentiality requirements imposed by HIPAA or the Public Health Services Act, so any information that could not ordinarily be shared under those federal statutes could still not be shared by TRACE entities.
  • Having said that, the bill does not create any new privacy protections for COVID-19 patients, so TRACE entities could share any information that isn’t protected by HIPAA or other privacy statutes.
  • The bill is silent on data collection and use. While nothing in the bill requires that data be collected, stored, or put to use, nothing in the bill prevents data collection and use, either.
  • Finally, while there is always a risk that legislation could be used in a way that threatens your rights, no statute or national emergency can suspend the Constitution’s protections (including your Fourth Amendment right to be secure in your home, and to be free from unreasonable searches or seizures). Should H.R. 6666 pass, we will be there to help our members navigate through it.

HSLDA recognizes that we are living in unprecedented and uncertain times, and legislators and leaders are trying to navigate the way forward. While it’s important to support our front-line testing centers and the workers who are putting their own health on the line to keep us safe, H.R. 6666 in its current form offers few details on how that goal will be accomplished, and no added protections for patient privacy or restrictions on data collection and use.