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Washington's Sen. Murray looks to prevent next pandemic with new legislation

Sen. Patty Murray and her colleagues in the Senate have drawn up a bill they hope will prevent future pandemics like the one caused by COVID-19.

SEATTLE — Although we’re likely nowhere near out of the woods when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic, Washington Sen. Patty Murray is already looking at ways to prevent the next one and prepare the country’s data systems to better respond.

Murray said the bill, the Prevent Pandemics Act, was written with the help of her Republican counterparts and looks to ensure the country’s supply chain is ready for the next pandemic as well as revamp outdated data collection systems nationally to make sure health care experts have real-time information.

The bill would establish what Murray referred to as a “9/11-style” commission, which would consist of scientists and experts, that looks back at what happened in the early days of the pandemic, what went wrong and how can Congress fix it.

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One thing Murray pointed to as something that needs fixing is the tech health care providers are using to communicate with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Not only was the country short on tests in the early stages of the pandemic, but some health care providers were using fax machines to send data to the federal government, Murray said.

“A lot of the information that went to CDC was sent on a fax machine from a health care provider. So, trying to collate that data and figure it out in real-time was just an impossible job,” she explained.

Murray said that some health care providers are still using fax machines to transmit information to the federal government.

“That's why we thought it was really important to have a 9/11-style commission, [with] scientists, experts, not politicians taking a look back to say what exactly happened, what went wrong and what do we need to do to prevent this from ever happening again,” Murray said.

Meanwhile, the state and the country seem to be coming out of the latest wave in the pandemic caused by the omicron variant. As of Jan. 25, the state’s 7-day case rate was roughly 16,365 cases, down from the peak of nearly 19,000 cases 10 days earlier.

Incomplete data through the end of January and the beginning of February suggests this downward trend will continue, leading to some discussions of lifting indoor mask mandates, including those in schools.

However, Murray said that it’s important we continue to rely on public health experts.

“What I think all of us want is to get over this pandemic, but we also know this pandemic has thrown us curveballs every time we have turned around,” she said. “So, I think we know what we need to do if the numbers go up, which is to make sure people have masks, make sure that we provide ventilation, make sure that we have testing so we know where communities are being impacted the most and what to do.”

She went on to say that the same holds for when the pandemic also recedes, adding, "And then, as we’re seeing the numbers back off, know that you don’t have to take those kinds of precautions. I think relying on our public health experts, who can see the numbers, who know what’s going on, to provide that valuable information is really critical.”

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