Background

Background

Essential information about the Covid Commission Planning Group

The COVID-19 pandemic ranks as a singular mass trauma suffered by humanity during the last hundred years. Millions have already died. Tens of millions have fallen ill. Billions have suffered.

But now, as the availability of protective vaccines rapidly expands, daily death tolls in the U.S. decline, and devastated economies start to rebound, there’s a growing risk that hard-won lessons from the last year will be lost amid the natural urge to put the crisis behind us and return to our pre-pandemic lives.

More than two dozen of the nation’s most accomplished virologists, public health experts, clinicians, and former officials, joined by four of America’s leading charitable foundations from across the political spectrum, are laying the groundwork to discover and preserve the lessons of the COVID-19 crisis. Together, they have formed a Covid Commission Planning Group (Covid CPG) to prepare the way for a National Covid Commission that can seize this once-in-a-century opportunity to help America—and the world—begin to heal and safeguard our common future from new existential threats.

Such a nonpartisan commission, properly conceived, will require unprecedented scale and scope. The Covid CPG has begun work on how to organize this massive effort. It has debriefed more than 200 experts from a range of disciplines, outlined plans for nine essential task forces, and mapped out dozens of distinct lines of inquiry to ensure that the work of a future Covid Commission will be comprehensive. The Planning Group is also reaching out to many Americans to hear what they hope a future commission can learn and accomplish, working with groups such as Marked By COVID to include the experiences of pandemic victims and their families.

Sponsors of this commission planning effort include Schmidt Futures, the Skoll FoundationThe Rockefeller Foundation, and Stand Together. Based at the University of Virginia's Miller Center of Public Affairs, the Covid CPG is working with the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security at the Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The Planning Group is directed by Philip Zelikow, who was executive director of the 9/11 Commission and the earlier, privately organized, Carter-Ford Commission on Federal Election Reform. Leading experts on the Johns Hopkins team include Amesh AdaljaAnita CiceroYvonne Commodore-MensahLisa CooperGigi GronvallTara Kirk SellJennifer NuzzoCaitlin RiversJoshua SharfsteinEric Toner, and Crystal Watson.

Senior advisers to the Covid CPG include veteran investigators and experts drawn from across several disciplines, including:

  • Danielle Allen, director, Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, Harvard University
  • John Bridgeland, co-founder and CEO, COVID Collaborative
  • Michael Callahan, staff physician, internal medicine and infectious disease, and director, clinical translation and mass casualty therapeutics, Massachusetts General Hospital
  • Nicholas Christakis, author of Apollo’s Arrow and director, Human Nature Lab, Yale University
  • Richard Danzig, former Secretary of the Navy and senior adviser to the Applied Physics Laboratory, Johns Hopkins University
  • Charity Dean, CEO and co-founder, The Public Health Company, and former assistant director, California Department of Public Health
  • Victor Dzau, president, National Academy of Medicine
  • Gary Edson, president, COVID Collaborative
  • Ezekiel Emanuel, vice provost for Global Initiatives and chair of the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy, University of Pennsylvania
  • Ruth Faden, founder, Berman Institute of Bioethics, Johns Hopkins University
  • Julie Gerberding, former CDC director and chief patient officer and executive vice president, Merck
  • Margaret "Peggy" Hamburg, former FDA commissioner and former New York City health commissioner
  • Richard Hatchett, CEO, Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI)
  • Alexander Lazar, professor, MD Anderson Cancer Center, University of Texas
  • Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology, T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Harvard University
  • Anup Malani, Lee and Brena Freeman Professor, University of Chicago Law School and professor, Pritzker School of Medicine, University of Chicago
  • Stephanie Mayfield, director, U.S. COVID-19 Response Team, Resolve to Save Lives, and former commissioner, Kentucky Department for Public Health
  • Mark McClellan, former FDA commissioner and director, Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy, Duke University
  • J. Stephen Morrison, senior vice president and director of the Global Health Policy Center, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)
  • Michael Osterholm, director, Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP), University of Minnesota
  • David Relman, professor of microbiology and immunology, Stanford University
  • Robert Rodriguez, professor of emergency medicine, University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine
  • Carl Schramm, University Professor, Syracuse University
  • Emily Silverman, internal medicine physician, Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, and creator of the medical storytelling live show and podcast The Nocturnists
  • Kristin Urquiza, co-founder, Marked By COVID
  • Rajeev Venkayya, former biodefense official and president, Global Vaccine Business Unit, Takeda

The Covid CPG effort is rooted in the belief that the scope of a future commission’s work must be national and international, not just federal. To that end, it is working with groups such as the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials and the COVID Collaborative, a national assembly of experts, leaders, and institutions in health, education, and the economy that is engaging with federal, state, local, private sector, and nonprofit leaders on the current COVID-19 response. A future commission should also address private sector and nonprofit challenges, not just those faced by the government.

Congress and the Biden administration might soon consider whether or how to organize a National Covid Commission. Such a commission might be initiated by the White House or chartered by Congress. Alternatively, an independent, privately organized national commission could answer a broad set of questions while avoiding some of the challenges of the current political environment. However, if Congress and the White House prefer to establish a government commission, the Planning Group will offer its work to that effort.

A nonpartisan National Covid Commission could unite Americans to call upon their knowledge and practical skills across and beyond political parties. Although it cannot provide the last word, a commission can build a healthier foundation for common understanding and future work, including on issues of equity and the way the seismic shock of this pandemic has exposed so many fault lines in our society. The challenge is not only a future pandemic. There will be other disasters, natural or man-made, that might test the readiness and resilience of our communities.