U.S. to bolster public health workforce to fight COVID-19, future pandemics

A healthcare worker prepares a dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) during the opening of the MTA's public vaccination program where rail customers who receive vaccinations also receive free rail passes at Grand Central Station Terminal train station in Manhattan in New York City, New York, U.S., May 12, 2021. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

WASHINGTON, May 13 (Reuters) - The Biden administration is releasing $7.4 billion to bolster the nation's healthcare workforce amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and to prepare for future epidemics and health challenges, the White House said in a statement on Thursday.

The funds, allocated as part of the $1.9 trillion aid package pushed by President Joe Biden and passed by Congress in March, will be used to recruit and hire a range of healthcare workers to help with vaccinations, testing and contact tracing, it said.

Of the $7.4 billion, $4.4 billion will go to states and local public health departments to address disease outbreaks and hire school nurses. It will also be used to expand the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's ability to track outbreaks and to create a service corps dedicated to public health. The remaining $3 billion will boost local public health workforces ahead of future challenges, with an emphasis on recruiting diverse candidates, the White House said.

The United States is making progress in its efforts to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic, which shut down much of the country last year and roiled the economy, with more than 582,000 deaths to date.

After a winter spike in COVID-19 infections, new cases have fallen for four straight weeks and deaths have also dropped as more than one-third of the country has been vaccinated. Warmer weather has also helped to curtain the spread of the virus.

Nearly 154 million people in the United States had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine as of Wednesday, U.S. officials said. read more The pace of vaccinations, however, has slowed and U.S. health officials have said variants such as the one emerging from India could still pose a threat.

Public health experts for years have decried a lack of funding for the CDC and other areas and have warned about the potential devastating impact from epidemics of SARS, Ebola, swine flu and other diseases.

Reporting by Steve Holland and Susan Heavey Editing by Paul Simao

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