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One Year Later

March 15, 2021
Weekly Columns

Last week marked one year since the coronavirus outbreak was officially declared a global pandemic and every country on earth was forced to confront the unknowns, challenges and spread of a mysterious and deadly virus. As we solemnly reflect on the unprecedented trials and hardships we faced worldwide, we also grieve the more than half a million Americans we lost and cling to hope of better days on the horizon. While we are not out of the woods yet, we are much closer to defeating the terrible virus and restoring our way of life.

There is no question about the severity of the crisis we all experienced this past year. However, throughout every challenge, the incredible resilience of the American people was on full display and continues to endure. Indeed, I was continually impressed by the shared determination to crush the virus, to help friends and neighbors and to rebuild the economy. And I am proud that the federal government played an important role in supporting crisis resources and recovery programs.

Working together, Congress successfully delivered five bipartisan relief packages last year. This included targeted relief to help individuals, communities and small businesses weather the storm and to support vital pandemic response and mitigation efforts. Most importantly, this included critical investment in rapid vaccine and therapeutic research, development and delivery. 

Thanks to Operation Warp Speed set in motion by the Trump Administration, the United States was able to discover, develop and distribute vaccines at the fastest rate in human history. Remember, it usually takes at least 10-15 years to develop vaccines. But because of smart adaptations to the usual process, teams of brilliant researchers and scientists and volunteers for test trials, it has taken less than a year to have not one but multiple vaccines to protect against COVID-19. That is truly remarkable. Now with three vaccines already approved and another under review for emergency use, I am encouraged that millions of Americans are getting vaccinated every day. If you have not yet had the opportunity, I urge you to do so as soon it becomes available to you.

Considering that lawmakers were able to work together to deliver bipartisan relief on five separate occasions last year, I was alarmed that Democrats did not even try to build on that success with recent legislation already sent to and signed by President Biden. I am even more disappointed that the $2 trillion piece of legislation had little to do with crushing the virus or helping communities recover from the pandemic. Instead, the so-called rescue package represents a partisan excuse by Democrats to push their radical policies and irresponsibly use taxpayer dollars.

Unfortunately, this new law puts more debt on the backs of the American people, but it could also spark an unprecedented inflationary outburst and undermine the prosperity of tens of millions of Americans in the next generation. The American people deserve better than that. Instead, as Congress did last year, we should be focusing on restarting our economy and getting all children out from behind screens and back in school for in-person education before they fall further behind.

Finally, this pandemic has taught us the importance of preparing for future disease outbreaks. While Congress has made public health readiness a funding priority in the past, it must become an even greater focus of the federal government’s budget in the years ahead. This should include continuing to expand our biomedical and disease research capacity through incremental funding increases for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health. We must also continue to replenish the Strategic National Stockpile as well as the Infectious Disease Rapid Response Reserve Fund in preparation for future health emergencies.  

As more Americans get vaccinated and hope grows that the end of pandemic is coming, please continue listening to the guidance of health officials to keep yourself and others healthy. Even if you have already been fully vaccinated, keep in mind that others around you may not be yet. Until we are further along, the best way to stop the spread of any germs is to wash your hands frequently, wear a mask and social distance. The end of this pandemic is truly in reach. Please stay vigilant so we do not lose precious momentum.