The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The world deserves a thorough review of the pandemic. Congress must set up a covid-19 commission.

The Washington Monument is seen in the background of a temporary art installation on the National Mall in remembrance of Americans who have died of covid-19. (Brynn Anderson/AP)
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The authors are all U.S. senators. Roger Marshall, a Republican, represents Kansas; Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, represents California; Joni Ernst, a Republican, represents Iowa; and Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat, represents New York.

Since covid-19 was first identified nearly two years ago, it has claimed more than 780,000 American lives and infected more than 48 million people in the United States. The pandemic has dramatically altered our society, economy and public health systems, creating an imperative to do everything in our power to prevent and prepare for a future crisis. One key step in preventing another pandemic is getting to the root of how this one originated.

There has yet to be a full and thorough investigation into the United States’ preparedness, our national response to the pandemic or the origins of covid-19. We simply cannot wait for the next crisis to hit. Congress must create a bipartisan covid-19 commission to get the answers the world deserves about this pandemic’s origin and a comprehensive health and national security strategy to protect and equip the United States in the event of another devastating emergency.

Just as we established an independent commission in the aftermath of 9/11, a bipartisan national commission on the covid-19 pandemic made up of experts is the best way to strengthen our nation’s emergency preparedness, response and resiliency against any future public health crisis.

Simply put, there are lessons to be learned from each stage of the pandemic that we cannot afford to ignore.

The commission would be tasked with a comprehensive investigation of the federal government’s preparedness for covid-19. We know there were significant gaps in our readiness, from a lack of sufficient personal protective equipment to the availability of ventilators to the ability of hospitals to quickly accommodate a massive influx of patients.

Similarly, we need to know more about the origins of the disease. Since the first reported outbreak in China two years ago, government officials in China have withheld information and refused to fully cooperate with international fact-finding efforts. The United States, along with like-minded partners and allies, should press China’s government to provide full transparency and grant this commission access to relevant information.

We also need to fully investigate the federal response to the pandemic to identify areas in which we must improve. There are lessons to be learned, from the rapid development, deployment and administration of our lifesaving vaccines to Congress’s passage of the $2 trillion Cares Act that has helped families, businesses, schools and health systems weather the pandemic.

The extent of the loss of life and the economic cost of this pandemic demonstrate the high risks of global public health crises and the possible havoc a future pandemic could create if the United States is not prepared for the inevitable next infectious disease outbreak. There is simply no good excuse to sit back and do nothing.

An independent review of actions taken during the pandemic would help our country better prepare and respond to future pandemic diseases by providing recommendations on how we can address the vulnerabilities in our national security and health systems.

We are proud to stand together and propose the bipartisan National Commission on the Covid-19 Pandemic Act in an effort to ensure our nation stands ready to meet the challenge of the next public health emergency. We call on our colleagues in Congress to support and pass this legislation.

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