The need for a coordinated national response to COVID-19

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Our nation is currently in the midst of a pandemic that is of historic proportions and unfortunately did not need to reach this scale. Delayed responses and failure to take early, aggressive actions have made the situation much worse than it should have been.

Now, we are where we are, and a full-scale national response is urgently necessary to defeat this deadly virus and reopen our economy. Concerning health and life safety, history has shown that a coordinated national response is the most effective solution. Individual states cannot provide the coordination which is needed to solve this and do not have the resources for large scale catastrophes. We have a perverse situation right now of states bidding against each other for supplies, needlessly driving up prices.

First, we need a national health response. Stopping the spread of COVID-19 must precede any economic response. While the administration has put in place some measures to manufacture ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPE), much more must be done. The national stockpile of PPE, which was depleted over several pandemics from 2009 through 2015, must be replenished.

We need the president to intervene, like Presidents Truman and Kennedy did with the steel companies, to ensure that production and distribution is taking place in a timely manner. Competition is a core element of a free market economy, but in emergency situations like now, unusual measures are necessary. It is counterproductive to have 50 states bidding against each other, and against other countries and local government entities. This unnecessary bidding drives up cost and keeps critical supplies from flowing to where they are most needed. The federal government has the capacity to order and distribute any necessary equipment, and if needed, it has the authority to order its production. In addition to PPE and ventilators, test kits and testing supplies must also be better produced and distributed.

This is not an unprecedented response to solving large scale problems, whether it be Truman’s use of the Defense Production Act in the 1950s, Theodore Roosevelt’s response to coal strikes or FDR successfully managing a recovery from the Great Depression. It was Herbert Hoover who said in March 1930 that the Depression would be over in 60 days. We do not need that kind of leadership now.

The administration can also utilize trained federal employees, military and civilian, to provide much needed relief for our overworked front-line workers. The National Disaster Medical System, which is a government program of approximately 5,000 medical professionals, can provide the relief needed by our medical professionals and our military can provide movement of equipment, food, medicines, and other supplies. We have many trained logistics officers throughout the military who can and should lead the organizational and distribution responses to the crisis. The efforts of Gen. Russel Honore working after Hurricane Katrina is an example.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the president must assemble, and Congress should fund, research and development to find a cure – a response of the level of President Franklin Roosevelt’s “Manhattan Project” to find a vaccine and ensure that the virus will not continue to wreak havoc on our citizens.

On the economic front, continued assistance of the federal government will be critical. Jobless claims since the start of this pandemic now top 17 million and will increase until we can return to a fully opened country. In March, Congress passed a $2.3 trillion aid package, which included funding for individual taxpayers, small and large employers, and unemployment assistance. It is already clear that more money will be needed and that it will need to come from the federal government. More individual payments directly to taxpayers will be needed. More grants to small businesses will be needed. The Federal Reserve is doing its part. The liquidity programs Chairman Jerome Powell has implemented have calmed the debt and equity markets, reduced spreads and increased liquidity.

Congress’s oversight and reviews by inspectors general in all applicable agencies are critical to assuring that appropriated funds are spent in accordance with congressional terms. The goal is to get Americans back to work and get businesses back to pre-pandemic levels of activity as quickly as safely possible, without favoritism or diversion of funds from what Congress legislated.

Throughout our country’s history, we have seen many emergencies and federal government responses. It is not too late for a nationally coordinated response and recovery that gets aid to those in need quickly and efficiently to restore our physical and fiscal health.

Rooney represents Florida’s 19th District.

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