Murray discussed progress made so far, the recent uptick in nationwide COVID cases, and stressed urgent need for action against future public health crises
Senator Murray: “Even after we are through this crisis, our work won’t be done. We have to make sure we learn from this history, and take action so we never repeat it.”
***WATCH SENATOR MURRAY’S OPENING REMARKS HERE***
(Washington, D.C.) – Today, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, held a hearing on the federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic. At the hearing with leaders from the Biden Administration, Senator Murray and the witnesses discussed the significant progress made in combatting COVID-19, the importance of continuing to get more people vaccinated, and what more can be done to slow the current spread of the virus and reduce the risk of future outbreaks. In her opening remarks, Senator Murray underscored the importance of strengthening public health infrastructure at every level to protect against pandemics, chronic disease, and any other public health threat.
“Even after we are through this crisis, our work won’t be done,” Senator Murray said in her opening remarks. “We have to make sure we learn from this history, and take action so we never repeat it. This crisis has cost too much—has taken too many lives—for us to do anything less.’
During the hearing, Senator Murray emphasized the need for action to increase vaccine confidence, get shots into arms, and put an end to the pandemic—especially as COVID-19 cases and deaths have started rising once again due to the circulation of new variants. Murray highlighted that while vaccines are effective in saving lives and stopping the spread of COVID-19, there is a larger need to learn the lessons of this pandemic when it comes to strengthening our public health and preparedness infrastructure to protect the health and safety of all Americans—regardless of where they live, who they are, or how much they make.
“There is a saying in health care—an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. We need to have the same mindset when it comes to public health,” continued Senator Murray “That’s why I’ve pushed for more funding for public health departments throughout our COVID response packages. It’s why earlier this year I re-introduced legislation to end the cycle of crisis and complacency in public health funding by providing $4.5 billion in dedicated, annual funding. And it’s why I am going to continue pushing for us to make these critical investments.”
The hearing included testimony from Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health; Dr. Janet Woodcock, Acting Commissioner, United States Food and Drug Administration; and Dawn O'Connell, Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, United States Department of Health and Human Services.
Senator Murray’s opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below:
“We are at a point of great promise and peril in the fight against COVID-19.
“While I am encouraged by the fact that two-thirds of adults in our country have received their first dose of vaccine, I’m alarmed by how the rate of vaccination has been slowing and how—driven by the Delta variant—rates of COVID-19 cases and deaths are once again on the rise.
“Five counties in my state currently have high levels of transmission according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“For example, in Walla Walla county, cases are up in July from June, and were up in June from April and May.
“And even though ninety-nine percent of the COVID deaths nationwide last month were among people who had not gotten vaccinated—we are still seeing fear and misinformation hold people back, huge disparities in vaccination rates among communities of color and rural communities, skepticism about vaccines among some religious and conservative communities, and slow uptake among young adults.
“Vaccines are safe, effective, and free and easy to get. We need to make sure people know that.
“And we also need to make sure they understand choosing not to get vaccinated doesn’t just put themselves at risk—it puts the people around them at risk, including people who are immuno-compromised, like those fighting cancer, and kids who are not yet eligible for vaccines.
“We also have to remember vaccinations are just one front of this fight.
“Local health departments need the capacity to track emerging outbreaks quickly through contact tracing, sequence virus samples to identify variants, help isolate ill people, track vaccination progress, and more.
“Experts need to evaluate the longevity of immunity—especially in the face of new variants—and the potential value of booster shots.
“Researchers need to study the long term impacts of this disease and how to treat long-haul COVID-19 or PASC.
“And perhaps most importantly—we as a nation need to fully learn the lessons of this pandemic, and take action so we are never in this situation again.
“That’s why Senator Burr and I have been working on bipartisan legislation and oversight to build the world-class public health and preparedness infrastructure our people deserve.
“It is my hope that through this work, we will not only address challenges we faced during this pandemic—but build on progress we saw in states across the country.
“In my home state of Washington, they worked to overcome challenges with sharing critical COVID data among health departments, labs, and hospitals to improve how data was used to allocate critical medical supplies like respirators, and develop a more complete dashboard for demographic data that broke out numbers for the Pacific Islander community.
“Michigan created a task force on racial disparities early on in the pandemic to ensure they were reaching communities of color for testing and contact tracing.
“And Alaska literally employed every mode of transportation to deliver vaccines to hard to reach communities.
“One of the clearest lessons from this crisis is that you should have the same protection from a pandemic, chronic disease, or other public health threat—regardless of where you live, who you are, or what your income.
“And one of the best ways of providing that level of protection, is through strong public health infrastructure.
“The stronger our health departments are at every level—the more effectively they can work to use sequencing technology and modern data systems to track the spread of diseases and monitor the success of vaccination efforts, stand up testing and contact tracing to stop disease outbreaks, develop science-based guidance to address local needs, build partnerships in hard to reach communities, build trust as communicators and fight misinformation, and so much more.
“There is a saying in health care—an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
“We need to have the same mindset when it comes to public health.
“That’s why I’ve pushed for more funding for public health departments throughout our COVID response packages.
“It’s why earlier this year I re-introduced legislation to end the cycle of crisis and complacency in public health funding by providing $4.5 billion in dedicated, annual funding.
“And it’s why I am going to continue pushing for us to make these critical investments.
“We all want this pandemic to end, and it’s clear despite the incredible progress we’ve made over the last few months, we still have a lot more work to do.
“But even after we are through this crisis, our work won’t be done.
“We have to make sure we learn from this history, and take action so we never repeat it.
“This crisis has cost too much, has taken too many lives, for us to do anything less.
“I look forward to hearing from all of our witnesses on our response to this pandemic so far, the path forward, and how we better prepare for threats like this in the future.
“And now, I’ll turn it over to Ranking Member Burr for his opening remarks.”