At Select Subcommittee’s Final Hearing, Experts Examine Lessons Learned from the Coronavirus Crisis and Discuss Critical Next Steps to Prevent and Prepare for Future Crises
Washington, D.C. (December 15, 2022) – Yesterday, the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, chaired by Rep. James E. Clyburn, held a hearing on “Preparing for and Preventing the Next Public Health Emergency: Lessons Learned from the Coronavirus Crisis.
“The coronavirus crisis was the worst public health crisis our nation has faced in more than a century. In the nearly three years since the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in the United States, more than 100 million Americans have been infected with the virus—some with lasting consequences—and over one million Americans have lost their lives. The United States was hit much harder than its peer nations, suffering a significantly higher mortality rate than countries like Australia, Germany, and Japan. Compounding this devastating loss, as Americans took difficult yet necessary precautions to protect themselves and their communities from the virus, tens of millions of Americans lost their jobs,” Chairman Clyburn said in his opening statement. He continued: “We know that the coronavirus crisis is not the last public health or economic emergency our country will face. But there is more we need to do to prevent the next emergency, and to be ready when it happens.”
The witnesses during today’s hearing were: Dr. Rick Bright, former Director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) and former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response at the Department of Health and Human Services; Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, Assistant Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and former vaccine researcher at the National Institutes of Health; Rebecca Dixon, Executive Director of the National Employment Law Project; Dr. Ngozi Ezike, President and Chief Executive Officer of Sinai Chicago and former Director of the Illinois Department of Public Health; and Admiral Brett P. Giroir, M.D., former Assistant Secretary for Health at the Department of Health and Human Services.
Witnesses’ testimony included:
Longstanding Vulnerabilities in the Country’s Public Health and Economic Infrastructure Worsened the Devastating Impact of the Coronavirus Crisis
- Dr. Bright described how the nation’s “long underfunded health care system buckled under the ravages of COVID,” attributing challenges to an understaffed health care infrastructure that was “ill-equipped to manage the flood of patients,” public health departments that “struggled with mass distribution and administration of lifesaving vaccines and medicines,” “existing healthcare inequities and disparities” that persisted and were exacerbated by the pandemic as well as “limited physical infrastructure, outdated data systems, and siloed reporting systems.”
- In her opening statement, Ms. Dixon explained that preexisting inequities contributed to pandemic’s uneven impacts: “Although the COVID-19 pandemic caused enormous hardship for workers, families, and communities throughout the country, communities of color endured the harshest impacts, due to the compounding effects of longstanding structural racism across healthcare, labor, housing, and education, and in the opportunity to accumulate generational wealth.”
- Dr. Ezike testified that “COVID-19 laid bare the health disparities that have historically plagued underserved communities. These communities face a disproportionate share of illness, of poverty, of hunger, as well as trauma.”
The Trump Administration’s Failed Leadership—Along with Corporate Actors—Undermined the Nation’s Pandemic Response
- Dr. Bright testified that the “unfortunate reality” of the Trump Administration’s “chaotic and reckless” pandemic response was that “politics prevailed over science, which led to decisions unsupported by scientific evidence.” Dr. Bright continued: “We faced denials, delays, and deceptions from those entrusted to protect Americans…[T]hese and other missteps and delays contributed to a rapid swelling of cases and, tragically, many unnecessary deaths.” Dr. Bright said that from “the earliest days of this outbreak, Americans have been lied to.”
- During an exchange with Rep. Jim Jordan, Dr. Bright confirmed previous Select Subcommittee findings that the Trump Administration prevented scientists from speaking publicly about their work. When asked by Rep. Jordan whether he was ever prevented from talking to the press, Dr. Bright responded: “Yes.” He added: “We were gagged. We were not allowed to speak to the media. All media requests were declined,” explaining that “[m]any civil servants [and] scientists from the CDC were not allowed to speak.”
- When asked by Rep. Raskin about the implications of medical misinformation and disinformation on pandemic response efforts, Dr. Bright said, “[I]t’s the misinformation, it’s the lies about the drugs and vaccines and masks from the early days [of the pandemic] that have eroded trust across this country, that has put hesitancy in this space between a lifesaving drug or vaccine and a person actually getting that drug or vaccine. And that trust is hard to rebuild.”
- In written testimony, Ms. Dixon described the consequences of relying on corporate actors to protect workers: “While policymakers may have hoped that larger companies would voluntarily choose to offer paid sick and family leave to their workforce, researchers found that even as infections mounted and the death toll from COVID-19 rose, many large and profitable companies decided not to provide workers with paid sick or family leave. Some companies that initially introduced paid sick leave policies later cut them back even as new waves of the disease were devastating the country.”
The Biden-Harris Administration and Democrats in Congress Took Swift, Decisive Action to Rescue the Economy
- Ms. Dixon explained in her written testimony that the temporary unemployment insurance (UI) programs created by Congress “expanded UI eligibility and together with regular UI, enabled 4.7 million people, including 1.4 million children, to avoid poverty in 2020…UI kept 2.3 million workers and their families out of poverty in 2021.”
- Ms. Dixon also praised the work of recent pandemic relief programs, stating in written testimony: “The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) temporarily made the full Child Tax Credit available to all poor and low-income children, increased the size of the Child Tax Credit, and provided an expanded Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for far more low-paid adults without minor children at home—driving a historic reduction in child poverty and providing timely income support for millions of people.”
- Ms. Dixon further stated in her written testimony that “[s]tates have used their ARPA discretionary childcare funds for innovative and important strategies and activities to increase families’ access to affordable, high-quality care and to improve childcare workers’ compensation and job conditions.”
If Adopted, the Recommendations in the Select Subcommittee’s Final Report Will Ensure Responses to Future Crises Are More Effective, Efficient, and Equitable
- Dr. Bright echoed numerous recommendations made by the Select Subcommittee in its final report, including the importance of increasing bivalent booster uptake, accelerating next-generation coronavirus countermeasures, maintaining testing capacity, promoting ventilation and filtration systems, ensuring adequate resources for core public health programs, modernizing data systems, and mitigating the health and economic impacts of Long COVID. Dr. Bright testified that “it is incumbent upon Congress and all of us to ensure that we dig deeply into lessons learned and best practices to ensure that this can never happen again.”
- Ms. Dixon described the economic lessons of the pandemic: “The pandemic proved the necessity of a strong UI [Unemployment Insurance] program and paid sick and family and medical leave, and how instrumental they are to alleviating poverty and propping up businesses and communities. The economic lessons of the pandemic could not be any clearer, and Congress must implement these reforms to enable people across this country to weather the next public health or economic crisis we face.”
- Dr. Ezike urged: “As we assess the lessons learned from the pandemic, we need to address our overall public health infrastructure. We need to build up and maintain the public health work force, and not just in times of pandemics or crises. We also need to support [public health] in the form of data modernization, and we need more effective communication and education.”
- Dr. Corbett said: “This is a moment for us to turn the tide of traditional underinvestment in some research areas so that we are prepared on all fronts.” She noted that, “[a]s variants continue to emerge, we must prioritize development of universal vaccines and novel therapeutics.” Furthermore, “because we are no strangers to each outbreak shining light on communities that have sometimes been neglected and overlooked, we must be strategic and unwavering in our efforts to increase health equity and tackle longstanding health disparities.”
“Our nation is in a far better place than we were in January 2021,” said Chairman Clyburn in his closing remarks. “Now we must take action to prevent such dark days from returning in the future.”
Click here to read the Select Subcommittee’s final report.
Click here to read the Chairman’s opening statement in full.
Click here to watch the full hearing and read written testimonies.