Bipartisan Senate group backs ‘9/11-style’ commission on COVID-19 response

Panel would explore origins, U.S. preparedness and playbook for future outbreaks

A bipartisan group of senators said Tuesday they are seeking a “9/11-style commission” to investigate how the COVID-19 pandemic began, the U.S. government’s response and ways to prevent a similar tragedy.

Sen. Roger Marshall, Kansas Republican, said a bipartisan commission is “long overdue” as the nation grapples with a virus that’s killed over 750,000 people in the U.S. and millions more around the world.

“As a physician, I think we always need to know the what, where, how, and why when giving a diagnosis. For this reason, it couldn’t be more important that we determine the origins of this infectious disease outbreak in order to ensure nothing like this ever happens again,” Mr. Marshall said.

Republican Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa and Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York co-sponsored legislation to create the commission.

“As the threat of major pandemics increases due to globalization and climate change, we must learn from what happened during this pandemic to ensure we’re prepared for any future outbreaks,” Ms. Feinstein said. “This bipartisan commission will ensure we learn all we can from the past 18 months so the immense human suffering and economic devastation we’ve endured never happens again.”

The bill is modeled on the so-called “9/11 Commission” that was set up in 2002 to fully examine the 2001 terror attacks on the homeland and look at ways to prevent future attacks.

The COVID commission would look at the government’s overall response to the pandemic, including its ability to procure supplies and develop tests, treatments and vaccines. It will look at whether public-health messages were effective and resonated with all communities, including the risk of stigma after Asian communities said coarse descriptions of the virus’s origins in China led to discrimination and harassment.

The commission will examine U.S. cooperation with countries abroad, because it was a global pandemic, and whether the nation’s health care system is adequately prepared for major public health crises.

“We simply cannot wait for the next crisis to hit – we must create a 9/11-style COVID-19 commission to prepare a comprehensive health and national security strategy to protect and equip the United States in the event of another devastating emergency,” Ms. Gillibrand said.

Republican sponsors, meanwhile, said it is important to look back at the origins of the virus and explore the fierce debate over whether it occurred naturally or was leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a lab that researched bat coronaviruses in the same central Chinese city where the pandemic began.

“The COVID-19 outbreak that emerged in Wuhan, China nearly two years ago put the world into an unprecedented global lockdown, and to this day, the origins of the pandemic remain a mystery as China refuses to fully cooperate with international fact-finding efforts,” Ms. Ernst said. “The American people and the world deserve answers, which is why I’m proud to join my colleagues across the aisle to create a bipartisan commission to get to the bottom of the pandemic once and for all — and ensure it never happens again.”

Mr. Marshall said he will press the National Institutes of Health for more information about U.S.-funded research at the lab and whether it made certain viruses more dangerous.

Federal scientists have said a federal grantee at the lab didn’t detail one of its projects in a timely manner, as required by the grant. However, they insist it is biologically impossible for that project to be linked to the coronavirus that is bedeviling the world.