A headline under the byline of William A. Galston caught our eye: “Appoint a Coronavirus 9/11 Commission” (Wall Street Journal, April 1).
National security encompasses public health (“coronavirus”) no less than terrorist attacks (“9/11”). As we bump along, ridiculously yet all so tragically wondering where the next batch of medical masks is going to come from, where the next pre-modern locale for a hospital will be (park? ballfield?), who (if anyone) is manufacturing a sufficient number of ventilators — not to mention “ethics” panels deciding who shall live and who shall die — the need for such a commission is all too plain.
The members would need to have sterling, nonpartisan or bipartisan and highly professional credentials. The investigation would need to address the inadequacies in the American public health system starting with the 2002-2003 SARS pandemic, extending through 2009 H1N1 swine flu pandemic and into the current COVID-19 pandemic. The chips would fall where they may, but the point would not be to assess blame, but toidentify the critical gaps and the solutions.
The gaps, according to William A. Galston, are many: During the SARS pandemic (Bush administration), the Government Accountability Office informed Congress that most hospitals around the country lacked the capacity to respond to large-scale infectious disease outbreaks. What did Bush and Congress do? Nothing. Five years later, OSHA warned, “employers and employees should not count on obtaining any additional protective equipment not already purchased and stockpiled.” Warning ignored. We see the dire consequences now.
During the H1N1 pandemic (Obama administration), a federal task force advised the administration to replenish the depleted federal stockpile of respirator masks. What did Obama do? Nothing.
In 2017 (Trump administration), the CDC warned: “Given the uncertainty in the timing and severity of the next pandemic, as well as the time required to manufacture medical countermeasures . . . stockpiling is essential.” What did Trump do? Nothing.
Meanwhile, the CDC itself would be one of the subjects of the investigation. According to Galston, just a few months ago, in 2020, the CDC did not use the tests created by the World Health Organization and then bungled the development of its own tests. Had they been in place, things today would have been very different. Galston writes that according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, a mass testing program would have been an essential component of a timely and effective response.
All right, we’re certain that there must be all kinds of other government reports out there urging massive spending on or stockpiling for some other emergency, but the thing is this: By 2017 there had already been two pandemics in the past 15 years. So if you’d like to pin blame, there are plenty of presidents and Congresses to go around. But this would be counterproductive. The goal now should take its tone from the professional mandate and nonpartisan or bipartisan members of such an investigatory commission.
Clearly, given the dimensions and the disruptions of the current pandemic, no one needs to be convinced that since 2002 the US government should have acted far more responsibly. But how? What were the specific failures? What are the specific solutions? What is the cost? How is it to be paid for? And hardly least: What are the warning signs that a pandemic might be coming? How is a clear chain-of-command to be defined and put in place, for all to know and see? This is what the agenda of a Coronavirus Commission would be.
It is not too early to appoint it. Consider: Notwithstanding the gut wrenching trauma of September 11, 2001, it was not until 2007 that Congress put in place the necessary changes to prevent another one. A six-year delay! We cannot afford to wait that long or half that long to make certain that we are never again caught flat-footed in the face of a potential pandemic.
Copyright © 2020 by the Intermountain Jewish News