Congressional Report Suggests Improvements for Response to Another Pandemic
WASHINGTON — Deep flaws in the nation’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic gave a glimpse into how to prepare for the next infectious outbreak, according to a report adopted Wednesday by a congressional panel.
The hearing of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis was the final meeting of the special panel congressional leaders chose nearly three years ago to remedy any problems arising from the government’s plan of action.
Their findings culminated in a report entitled “Preparing for and Preventing the Next Public Health Emergency: Lessons Learned from the Coronavirus Crisis.”
“The United States was underprepared for a major public health crisis for years before the coronavirus pandemic,” the report says. “Chronic underfunding and longstanding health disparities put many Americans at heightened risk of becoming infected and developing severe illness as a result of the coronavirus.”
The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 reached about 1.1 million this week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC published new statistics Wednesday showing the death count might be higher than expected because of long COVID, referring to potentially fatal symptoms that can linger for months or even years after infection. The new statistics add at least 3,544 deaths to the toll but some researchers said it is likely an underestimate.
Among the problems listed in the congressional report was a failure to maintain the Strategic National Stockpile and disjointed efforts among federal agencies that handled the crisis.
The Strategic National Stockpile is a repository of antibiotics, vaccines, chemical antidotes, antitoxins and other critical medical supplies for a health emergency.
“These factors were exacerbated by the Trump administration’s disastrous initial response in 2020,” the report says.
In addition to inadequate testing and failing to acquire enough personal protective equipment to manage the virus, “Once the coronavirus outbreak erupted into a full-blown crisis, the Trump administration engaged in an unprecedented campaign to control and even manipulate the work of scientists leading the public health response,” the report says.
Other lapses were reported with the Paycheck Protection Program loans intended to help businesses remain open and to retain employees.
The Small Business Administration reported that nearly 2.3 million Paycheck Protection Program loans worth at least $189 billion were potentially based on fraudulent claims. They represent about a quarter of the roughly $800 billion in the forgivable loans.
More than criticizing the national response, the report tries to chart a path forward for the United States during what it describes as the likelihood of future health crises.
Some of the key recommendations would require the federal government to make the Strategic National Stockpile more robust.
“This may require incorporating new responsibilities to shape [Strategic National Stockpile] operations, including managing the contracts, storage and inventory requirements of new [personal protective equipment], pharmaceuticals and other products,” the report says.
In the rush to respond to COVID-19, some of the medical supply contracts were given to unqualified companies, the report said.
In one case, camera manufacturer Eastman Kodak was scheduled to receive a $765 million government loan to make generic drug ingredients. As suspicions of deceit among its corporate executives and concern about its lack of pharmaceutical experience arose, the loan was halted shortly before the money transfer.
The congressional report blamed a lack of coordination between manufacturers and government agencies as a contributing factor.
The report also suggested methods to lessen the economic devastation of a health crisis. An estimated 25 million Americans lost their jobs because of COVID-19.
The report suggested more housing assistance, job creation programs and protections for consumers’ credit ratings.
The report’s findings won endorsements from lawmakers and medical witnesses at the Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis hearing.
“The virus and the medical and social implications of it are here to stay,” said Kizzmekia S. Corbett, a Harvard University viral immunologist.
Rep. James E. Clyburn, D-S.C., the subcommittee’s chairman, said, “We know the coronavirus is not the last public health or economic emergency we will face.”
Tom can be reached at email@example.com and @TomRamstack
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