24 April 2020

NOTE FROM NORM: We Must Be Prepared for What Comes Next

On May 21, 2003 as Chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations I convened a hearing on the SARS titled, “SARS:  How Effective Is The State And Local Response?”

On July 30, 2003 I held a follow-up hearing title “SARS:  Best Practices for Identifying And Caring for New Cases.”

SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, is a viral respiratory illness caused by a coronavirus.

First reported in Asia in February of 2003 it spread quickly to two dozen countries in North America, South America, Europe, and Asia before it was contained.

The purpose of my hearings was to first examine who prepared we were as a nation, specifically at a state and local level.

At the time, we were not.

Sadly, we have learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, we were not prepared any better today than we would have been in 2003.

At the same time, we wanted to find out how our nation could be better prepared to identify cases, and most importantly, take care of those who were becoming sick from SARS.

Sadly, we have learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, we were not prepared any better today than we would have been in 2003.

Since my hearings there have been other hearings, and other warnings from individuals, organizations, and those inside and outside of government that our nation, and our world, must be prepared for a global pandemic.

We have learned that our nation, and our world, was not and has been fighting a war against a virus with our backs up against the wall.

While the tide has been slowly turning in favor of humanity the work is far from done.

It’s also clear that there are those on the left and the right of the political spectrum who will be more inclined to find people to blame for what went wrong during the COVID-19 pandemic than they are about what went right.

And, more importantly, what must go right more times than wrong with the next pandemic.

The next pandemic will come.

In fact, the next pandemic may be a return of COVID-19.

If not, it will be the arrival of a new pandemic from somewhere on the planet and it will spread quickly to everywhere else on the planet.

As our nation continues the battle to win this war it is vital that we be prepared for the next pandemic war that we will face.

For not only will it surely come but it will require a war plan that is better equipped, funded and executed than that which we have seen with COVID-19.

We have also learned that there are nations in the world where their political system may not just fail its own people but can fail the world when it comes to sharing information about the outbreak of potential pandemic viruses.

While a coordinated global response is needed when dealing with global pandemics it must be noted that our own national interests when it comes to ascertaining the severity of a spreading disease must be prioritized.

What I learned in 2003 was that the resources our state and local units of government had to deal with SARS were terribly inadequate.

There was a shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), ventilators, medicines, and advanced training for health care and public safety officials.

Sound familiar?

There was also a lack of a robust national coordinating response to help support those state and local governments to rapidly mobilize during a pandemic and to assist in providing access to logistics, transportation, and distribution of resources from a national stockpile.

Again, the familiarity with today’s narrative is not just striking, but should compel us to be better prepared than we have been, and we were, for a global pandemic.

I am not interested in pointing fingers during the middle of a war – armed conflict or global pandemic – because our focus must be on winning and saving lives.

We can, and most assuredly must, focus on those things that we can do for the future to better prepare us to overcome the viral enemy that is coming to attack us.

We need quicker detection plans.

We need to move to close our borders faster.

We need to make sure there is a surplus of equipment and supplies at a national, as well as a local and state level.

We need an economic plan in place to implement immediately, and without partisan rancor and bickering, to establish a firewall to protect American workers and jobs.

We need a robust national coordinating plan that does not replace the role of local and state governments but enhances it and is an active partner in executing plans that are responsive to local and state needs.

We also need to re-open our economies faster and with a greater sense of urgency for the millions – in fact, billions – of people throughout the world that are impacted by what happens when we close it down.

We all have an obligation – citizens, political and governmental, business, religious and civic leaders – to recognize that there must be – absolutely has to be – a necessary calculation that focuses on public safety and saving lives – and ensuring the economic health of our citizens throughout the world.

We cannot save the world if the world is closed for business, commerce and trade.

The key word here is “We” because all of us, regardless of political party, ideology, or geography, are in this together.

We can focus on assigning blame for the events that have culminated from COVID-10 and not be any closer to preparing for the next pandemic.

Or we can focus on winning the next war before it starts.

We, the People.

It is how we have won the wars that have threatened humanity in the past.

It is how we will win the wars that will threaten it in the future.