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Democratic senators want to create panel to determine how to reopen country

Democratic senators want to create panel to determine how to reopen country
© Greg Nash

A group of Democratic senators want to create a commission for determining how to reopen businesses, schools and other parts of the country shuttered by the coronavirus.

Five Democratic senators said on Monday that they will introduce legislation to form a panel, known as the America Forward Commission, that would be tasked with coming up with a strategy on how and when to begin opening back up closed parts of the country.

“Reopening communities, schools, and businesses following a pandemic is a serious public health matter, and we should treat it that way. Independent experts should be the ones helping us determine how we can reopen the country when it is safe to do so,” Sen. Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzSenate Democrats hold talkathon to protest Barrett's Supreme Court nomination Coordinated federal leadership is needed for recovery of US travel and tourism Senate Democrats call for ramped up Capitol coronavirus testing MORE (D-Hawaii), who spearheaded the bill, said in a statement.

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In addition to Schatz, Democratic Sens. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisHarris blasts GOP for confirming Amy Coney Barrett: 'We won't forget this' GOP Senate confirms Trump Supreme Court pick to succeed Ginsburg The painstaking, state-by-state fight to protect abortion access MORE (Calif.), Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerDemocratic senators unveil bill to ban discrimination in financial services industry Obama endorses Espy in Mississippi Senate race Durbin says he will run for No. 2 spot if Dems win Senate majority MORE (N.J.), Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetSenate Democrats hold talkathon to protest Barrett's Supreme Court nomination Cotton mocks NY Times over claim of nonpartisanship, promises to submit op-eds as test Democrats sense momentum for expanding child tax credit MORE (Colo.) and Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyDemocrats warn GOP will regret Barrett confirmation Democrats brace for nail-biting finish to Senate battle Senate Democrats hold talkathon to protest Barrett's Supreme Court nomination MORE (Conn.) are backing the legislation.

The White House already has a Coronavirus Task Force, which has been giving near daily briefings with Trump. The president is also expected to announce a separate "Opening Our Country" council on Tuesday, which will be focused on reopening parts of the country shuttered by the rapid spread of the coronavirus.

The commission being proposed by the Democratic senators would make policy recommendations. The legislation to establish it would also require that the White House's coronavirus task force respond in writing to any ideas within one week of receiving them and publicly post the responses.

Trump has appeared eager to quickly try to jump start the economy after a tumultuous period, though public health experts warn that moving too quickly could risk a second wave of spikes in new coronavirus cases.

There are 547,627 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the United States as of early Monday evening, with 21,662, deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

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“Protecting public health is a core function of government, and it’s a responsibility all elected officials must take seriously. The eventual decision to ease social distancing orders and return to the pre-coronavirus ‘normal’ must be driven by science, not politics,” Harris said on Monday.

The legislation that will be introduced by the Democratic senators would require the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine to appoint 10 to 15 members for the panel. That would have to include at least one expert in public health, economics, transportation, medicine, national security and state and local government.

The commission would be responsible for developing standards and techniques for allowing the government to "diagnose, isolate and mitigate the coronavirus," including if it becomes a seasonal reoccurrence, as some public health officials have predicted it will.

It would also make decisions on medical supplies and protective equipment, two areas where state officials have said a lack of a national strategy has led to state governments bidding against each other to try to secure more supplies.

The panel would also study proposals to help bolster economic sectors and workers that are most vulnerable to the disruption sparked by a pandemic. Roughly 17 million workers have filed for unemployment in the span of three weeks as the coronavirus has ravaged broad swaths of the U.S. economy, according to data from the federal government.