The House passed a bill on Tuesday to create a grant program for research into the cognitive effects of COVID-19.
The legislation, titled the Brycen Gray and Ben Price COVID-19 Cognitive Research Act, passed in a 350-69 vote, with all opposition coming from Republicans. Eight Republicans and four Democrats did not vote.
The measure calls on the Director of the National Science Association to award grants to eligible entities — including higher education institutions or other groups made up of universities and non-profit organizations — to assist them in researching “the disruption of regular cognitive processes associated with both short-term and long-term COVID-19 infections.”
Research eligible under the bill includes studies on the effects COVID-19 infections have on cognitive, emotion and neural structure and function, and the influence coronavirus-related psychological and psychosocial factors have on the disruption of cognitive processes.
The grants should be awarded on a competitive, merit-reviewed basis, according to the bill.
In a statement announcing the bill in October, Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio), a co-sponsor of the measure, cited research from The Lancet Psychiatry that says roughly one in three patients diagnosed with COVID-19 received a neurological or psychiatric diagnosis in the six months after their positive test.
The legislation is named after Brycen Gray, 17, and Ben Price, 48, both of whom died by suicide after experiencing mental health issues following their bouts with COVID-19.
During debate on the House floor Tuesday, Gonzalez spoke about Gray and Price, saying the two “tragically passed after battles with cognitive impairments caused by COVID-19.”
“Despite having no history of mental illness, each of them began to battle symptoms such as anxiety, panic and paranoia. The disease took Brycen and Ben from two of the healthiest, most vibrant people you could find, to individuals so debilitated that they could not bear to live another day. While they fought to the bitter end, each chose to end their pain,” he added.
The Ohio Republican said the bill would help learn why COVID-19 has an impact on the brain.
“If we believe in protecting our families, we need to act now and start finding answers to why COVID-19 can have such a significant impact on the brain. The legislation before us today is another important step in that effort,” he said.
Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) said researchers “are raising alarms” about the risk of mental health issues and suicide following COVID-19 diagnoses, adding “improved data collection and additional research is needed to better understand the mental health implications of COVID-19 infection.”