Rapid Expert Consultations on the
COVID-19 Pandemic

MARCH 14, 2020–APRIL 18, 2020


Standing Committee on Emerging Infectious Diseases and 21st Century Health Threats
Rapid Expert Consultations

In response to a request from the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR), the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine convened a standing committee of experts to help inform the federal government on critical science and policy issues related to emerging infectious diseases and other 21st century health threats. These rapid expert consultations are the first of their kind and represent the best evidence available to the standing committee at the time each publication was released. The science on these issues is continually evolving, and the scientific consensus the standing committee reaches on these topics will likely evolve with it. The standing committee includes members with expertise in emerging infectious diseases, public health, public health preparedness and response, biological sciences, clinical care and crisis standards of care, risk communication, and regulatory issues. For more information on the Standing Committee on Emerging Infectious Diseases and 21st Century Health Threats, visit the standing committee page.


The National Academies are a unique national resource. Their members represent the best in American science, engineering, and medicine. For more than a century, the National Academies have called upon their members and other experts to lend their knowledge and experience as volunteers in service to the nation. The National Academies have rightly been called objective, evidence-based, influential, and authoritative. In this instance, they have also proved to be quick.

The COVID-19 pandemic has demanded exceptional responses from many institutions, domestic and international, public and private. As the pandemic began to take hold in the United States, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, led by Dr. Kelvin Droegemeier, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in the person of Dr. Robert Kadlec, Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, turned to the National Academies for expert advice. Presidents Marcia McNutt, John Anderson, and Victor Dzau responded by setting up the Standing Committee on Emerging Infectious Diseases and 21st Century Health Threats.

The standing committee held its first organizational meeting on Wednesday, March 11, 2020, and in consultation with the sponsors, prepared an initial list of scientific and technical questions that the COVID-19 pandemic posed. Sponsor assignments cascaded onto the committee, and the staff, members, and other experts responded with alacrity. The main work product in this phase has been the “rapid expert consultation,” a written product prepared by the committee and subject to accelerated review by the quality assurance arm of the National Academies, its Report Review Committee.

As I write this, just 1 month after the initial, organizing meeting, the standing committee has produced 11 rapid expert consultations in addition to the initial listing of important issues, and it has organized one informal telephone consultation on behalf of the sponsors, a mechanism that allows government officials to tap even more rapidly into the expertise of the standing committee members and others. As we look ahead, we anticipate that the committee will begin to focus on intermediate-term questions, where the answers have a time constant measured in weeks to months rather than hours to days. We also expect to turn more regularly to the informal, telephonic consultations in which the sponsors can obtain expert input in a timely way and experts can be directly responsive to the most pressing questions.

With this expected transition in emphasis, this seems like an appropriate moment to collect the set of completed rapid expert consultations, assembled here. In this rapidly evolving pandemic, new knowledge emerges by the day, and these statements each represent a snapshot of what was known at a particular moment in time. While they were rapidly prepared, we also hope they represent sound, thoughtful, timely, and useful information for the decision makers who are shaping the nation’s response to COVID-19.

I would like to express my appreciation to Drs. Droegemeier and Kadlec who placed their confidence in the National Academies, to the Academy presidents who established the standing committee, to the members of the committee and other experts who stepped up whenever asked, to the outside reviewers and Report Review Committee staff and leaders who moved briskly to improve the final products, and above all, to the exceptional standing committee staff who labored literally day and night to produce these documents.

As the National Academies contribute to policy decisions with objective, scientific, evidence-based guidance, these rapid expert consultations stand as testimony to an additional capability of the National Academies to act as swiftly as the current crisis demands.

Harvey V. Fineberg, M.D., Ph.D.
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Standing Committee on Emerging Infectious Diseases and 21st Century Health Threats


The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine would like to acknowledge the contributions of the following subject-matter experts in developing these rapid expert consultations.

DONALD BERWICK, Institute for Healthcare Improvement
CARLOS DEL RIO, Emory Vaccine Center
BARUCH FISCHHOFF, Carnegie Mellon University
JAMES HODGE, Arizona State University
MICHAEL OSTERHOLM, University of Minnesota
ED NARDEL, Harvard University
JENNIFER NUZZO, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
RICHARD SERINO, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
MATTHEW WYNIA, University of Colorado Center for Bioethics and Humanities

The review of these rapid expert consultations was overseen by Bobbie Berkowitz, Columbia University School of Nursing; Ellen Wright Clayton, Vanderbilt University Medical Center; and Sue Curry, University of Iowa College of Public Health. They were responsible for making certain that independent examinations of these rapid expert consultations were carried out in accordance with the standards of the National Academies and that all review comments were carefully considered. Responsibility for the final content rests entirely with the authors and the National Academies.