Senate panel works to prepare now for next pandemic

Washington

WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) —

The Senate Health Committee debated Tuesday how the federal government, states and healthcare providers should prepare for another wave of COVID-19 and future pandemics.

Republicans are calling on Congress to pass new legislation by the end of the year, while Democrats are pushing for a more urgent response to the current crisis.

“The work you’re doing now will literally save lives in the future,” Dr. Bill Frist told the committee. 

The former U.S. Senate majority leader returned to his old committee to reiterate the call he made 15 years ago for a pandemic plan.

“It was crystal clear then we were woefully unprepared for what was to inevitably come,” Frist said. 

Frist stressed Congress still needs legislation to accelerate research and development of tests, treatments and vaccines, enhance medical supply chains, and make clear who is in charge during a health emergency.

“While the nation is in the midst of responding to COVID-19, the United States Congress should take stock now,” said Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-TN.

Earlier this month, Alexander issued five recommendations similar to Frist’s requests that he wants put into legislation this year to better prepare for another wave of COVID-19 and future pandemics. They also include expanding the country’s ability to detect and track emerging infections, and improving state and local response capacities.

“Many of the challenges Congress has worked to address in the past 20 years still remain,” Alexander said.

Alexander also noted the coronavirus crisis “has exposed some gaps that have not been previously identified,” including shortages in testing supplies and sedative drugs for ventilator usage.  

As of Tuesday, the U.S. recorded more than two million coronavirus cases and 120,000 deaths as the virus continues to spread.

Ranking Member Patty Murray, D-WA, argued the nation is not finished dealing with this first wave.

“Unfortunately, the White House is pretending this pandemic is over,” Murray said. “President Trump has said it’s fading, even as several states see record case increases.”

Murray told the committee lawmakers must ensure the racial disparities in access to testing do not carry over to vaccines.

“This is an injustice we cannot repeat,” Murray said. “We need the administration to detail how it will produce and distribute vaccines to everywhere and everyone.”

Alexander will continue gathering recommendations like that on his white paper until Friday when he plans to start working on new bills with the committee.

Stay with News 2 for continuing coverage of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

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