With more than 600,000 Americans dead from COVID-19 and questions still raging about the origin of the virus and the government’s response, a push is underway on Capitol Hill and beyond for a full investigation of the crisis by a national commission like this one that looked at September 11.
It is not known whether such an investigation will ever happen, although a team of privately sponsored public health experts is already paving the way for one.
Since most of the disaster unfolded under President Donald Trump’s watch, many fear politics could hamper any investigation, as happened when Republicans spoke out against a commission to investigate. on the Jan.6 attack on Capitol Hill by Trump supporters. Others fear that the desire of many to just move on will thwart an exam.
“I think we have to get into the weeds, look at the details to see what happened,” said Sabila Khan of Jersey City, New Jersey, whose father, Shafqat Rasul Khan, has died of COVID-19 . âIf this happens again, our loved ones have died in vain. “
A bill introduced by Democratic Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine would establish such a commission.
His investigation could include a look at the origins of the virus; early warnings and other communications with foreign governments; coordination between federal, state and local agencies; the availability of medical supplies; public health testing and surveillance; development and distribution of immunization; the uneven effect on minorities; and government relief policies.
âThe death toll from the COVID-19 pandemic is more than 200 times that of the 9/11 attacks – but Congress has yet to establish a similar commission to investigate vulnerabilities in our public health system and issue guidelines on how we as a nation can better protect the American people from future pandemics, âMenendez and Collins wrote in an essay this week in The New York Times.
While the government’s emergency program to develop a vaccine proved to be successful, the crisis in the United States was marked by shortages of protective equipment and other medical equipment, insufficient tests, kits faulty testing, false or misleading treatment information, and mixed messages about the need. for masks and containments.
Last month, President Joe Biden ordered U.S. intelligence services to step up efforts to investigate the origins of the virus, including the possibility that it escaped from a Chinese lab, a once-marginal theory that has gained ground in recent weeks. Many scientists have said instead that they believe the virus has occurred in nature and has passed from animals to humans.
Dr Naeha Quasba of Baltimore, who lost her father, Ramash Quasba, to the outbreak, said she supported an investigation that could hold others responsible for their failures, which she said , includes the lack of a national response plan, inadequate health funding and a lack of courage. the execution of public health orders.
âBut at this point my dad is gone and now a vaccine is available,â Quasba said. âSo people move on to another phase. “
While no votes on the legislation are expected and the prospects for adoption are uncertain, work is already underway that could help shape a survey: members of what is known as the COVID Commission have been at work for five months, trying to come up with the key questions for a commission and the best ways to get answers.
University of Virginia history professor Philip Zelikow, who heads the planning group and served as executive director of the 9/11 Commission, said dozens of experts have been recruited with support from foundations charities and had identified more than 40 leads for investigation.
“All of this preparatory work is being done to be made available to any commission created, whether it is created by Congress, created by the president, or independently created and privately sponsored,” he said.
Created by Congress at the end of 2002, the 9/11 Commission produced a 567-page report in July 2004 that began with a detailed account of the hijackings of September 11, 2001. It examined the causes of terrorists’ hatred towards the United States, the gaps that allowed the attacks to occur and the suggestions to prevent another. Many of his suggestions have been implemented, including more information sharing between agencies.
Planning group member Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics at Harvard’s School of Public Health, said a possible alternative to a government-appointed COVID-19 commission would be a commission financed by the private sector.
âThe upside is that it could be done in a less politically charged way,â Lipsitch said.
Another member of the planning group, Anita Cicero, deputy director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said the debate over whether to investigate the attack on Capitol Hill has demonstrated that partisan divide is the first obstacle to overcome in this matter.
âThe idea that this is a commission set up by one or the other of the parties, I think it’s kind of dead on arrival. So you have to find a way to make it a really more bipartisan and welcome effort, âshe said.
Associated Press writer Dustin Weaver in Washington contributed to this report.