U.S. Must Prepare Now for Next Pandemic, Senators Are Told
Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from right, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Brett Giroir, U.S. assistant secretary for health, wear protective masks during a House hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S. (Photographer: Kevin Dietsch/UPI/Bloomberg)

U.S. Must Prepare Now for Next Pandemic, Senators Are Told

The U.S. was unprepared for the coronavirus pandemic and needs to invest more in the tools needed to monitor outbreaks and respond rapidly to the next health crises, witnesses told a Senate panel Tuesday.

“Health security is national security, so let’s treat it as such,” Bill Frist, a surgeon and former Republican Senate majority leader, told the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

He and the other witnesses on lessons learned so far in the pandemic -- which has caused more than 120,000 deaths in the U.S., with rates of infection still increasing across the South and West -- said the national government must take the lead role in dealing with an outbreak. The U.S. also needs to spend more on public health at all levels, they said.

“Modernization is the word that really needs to be the framework for considering where do we go from here,” said Julie L. Gerberding, who was director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during the SARS outbreak and is now chief patient officer at Merck & Co.

Frist said public health programs must have “predicable, consistent” funding.

The hearing was one of three Tuesday focused on the pandemic. Across the Capitol in the House, Anthony Fauci, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director, and Robert Redfield, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention chief, were being questioned about President Donald Trump’s statements about cutting back on testing even as the virus continues to spread.

Fauci told the House Energy and Commerce Committee that there were no instructions to slow down testing, while also noting the “disturbing surge” of infections in states that were among the first to reopen their economies.

Frist also said the U.S. must engage diplomatically with other nations and be willing to help poorer countries deal with disease.

“I encourage the committee to underscore this vital connection between the help of the world’s most vulnerable and the security of Americans here at home,” said Frist, who was majority leader from 2003 to 2007.

Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander said he wants to translate some of the testimony into legislation that will help U.S. readiness.

“While the nation is in the midst of responding to Covid-19, the U.S. Congress should take stock now of what parts of the local, state and federal response worked, what could work better and how, and be prepared to pass legislation this year to better prepare for the next pandemic,” he said.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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