Congress currently is considering eight proposals to establish a national COVID Commission. Such commissions routinely follow massively disruptive events in our nation’s life. Unfortunately, such congressionally chartered efforts seldom make much of an imprint on the future, which is their common mandate. This time perhaps that could change, if whichever bill wins out includes a roadmap for meaningful reform of our public health enterprise that, in so many ways, failed as COVID engulfed us.
Consider how federal, state and local health departments were unprepared for a threat that an expert government panel warned, in 2019, was inevitable. Despite its enormous $11 billion budget, the 800-pound gorilla of public health, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, had no model for how a COVID-like virus would spread, nor how to target preventive measures. Worse, it had not developed a protocol for testing to determine if individuals were infected with a disease, and no plans existed to work with private laboratories to produce test kits for widespread distribution, which, during the onset of COVID, it resisted. These delays cost tens of thousands of lives.
The CDC’s often-contradictory advice made Americans skeptical of preventive guidance, from lockdowns to masking and, subsequently, of vaccine efficacy and vaccine mandates. One might wonder if today’s CDC and local health departments could rise to the occasion, as did their predecessors, to beat back cholera, stop malaria, conquer polio or obliterate smallpox. Given the ability of malevolent actors to manipulate the genetic codes of viruses, the threats ahead are far greater.
Read the full commentary in The Hill.