Ranking Member Katko Statement at Hearing on the COVID-19 Pandemic

Washington, D.C. – Rep. John Katko (R-NY), Ranking Member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, today delivered the following opening statement at a full-committee hearing entitled, “Confronting the Coronavirus: Perspectives on the COVID-19 Pandemic One Year Later:”

Thank you for holding this necessary hearing today. I appreciate your commitment to tackling this topic so early in the Congress. The mere fact that this hearing is being held virtually demonstrates the degree to which the COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted our daily lives.

Like very few things during my lifetime, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted every American in some way  it has had a crippling effect on our economy forcing small businesses to shutter their doors, it has threatened the financial stability of millions of families, and it has taken a significant toll on the mental health of countless Americans, including our school children. 

We need to do everything we can to support those suffering, including by taking appropriate steps to get our kids back in the classroom, as quickly and safely as possible!

Not to mention the horrific number of deaths that have occurred. I saw media reports just last week that life expectancy in the United States fell by a full year in the first six months of 2020 resulting from the pandemic, with racial minorities suffering even greater declines. This is the largest drop since World War II – and it’s absolutely tragic. My thoughts and prayers go out to everyone who has suffered through this pandemic, especially those who have lost loved ones.

Sadly, a year later, when many of us thought we would have returned to a semblance of normalcy, we are still deep in the throes of this pandemic. Although it is a positive sign that cases and deaths may be trending down at the moment, the numbers are still way too high.

Many have become numb to the news on any given day in the United States, that thousands more of our fellow Americans have lost their lives to this devastating virus. Just last week alone, we lost more than 10,000 Americans to COVID and in the last few days surpassed 500,000 deaths total. Luckily, the vaccines have given us some much-needed hope, but we are still a long way from the end. We need to do absolutely everything we can to get as many Americans vaccinated as quickly as possible.

Most of the news in 2020 surrounding the pandemic was horrible, but I would be remiss without mentioning that we saw innumerable feats of courage and perseverance. As we know, Mr. Chairman, the American people, under the most horrendous conditions throughout history, have always stepped up to defy the odds.

Throughout 2020 and continuing to this day, we see tremendous courage from health care workers and first responders on the frontlines who continue to put their lives on the line to help their fellow Americans. I commend them for that.

Although the media tends to focus on the larger cities where the cases are higher, I would like to use this opportunity to highlight that the pandemic is everywhere – in districts like your district in Mississippi, Mr. Chairman, and mine in Central New York.

I would argue that the pandemic has had an equal or even larger impact on our smaller cities and more rural communities.

I want to urge all those working on the response to the pandemic not to forget about the impact this deadly virus is having on communities such as Syracuse, Auburn, Oswego, and many, many others.  In Central New York, we have seen the pandemic contribute to rising rates of mental illness, substance use disorders, and overdose deaths.

My witness today will highlight some of those challenges. In my Congressional district, we have seen north of 45,000 cases and more than 800 deaths.

Even though the country has been given a ray of hope with the vaccine, there is much left to do – including, and I hate to say it, plan for the next pandemic.

Now that we know firsthand that something like this is possible, we need to compile lessons learned and best practices to ensure we build an effective and aggressive strategy to respond to public health crises of this magnitude. Pandemic preparedness is a critical part of the homeland security mission. We must ensure that Federal, State, Local, and Tribal governments have diligent plans in place for a public health response to this and future pandemics.

Longer-term, we need to engage in a study of our medical and pandemic response supply chains to identify where we are overly beholden to foreign nation-states – like China – that don’t share our interests. I believe the Department can play a critical role in this work, and Mr. Chairman, I see great opportunity for bipartisan collaboration on this.

We always accomplish the most when we work collaboratively, across the aisle to address the needs of the American people.

Again, Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this hearing today. I look forward to the testimony of our witnesses.

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