Reports of a possible coronavirus vaccine by January and promising clinical trial results for the potential treatment of COVID-19 symptoms provide a ray of hope in weeks of otherwise dire news about the pandemic. But even in the best-case scenario, if a new administration begins on Jan. 20, the new president will be required to take bold steps to ensure that the United States will never again be so unprepared for a crisis.

Secrecy and misinformation from the highest levels of government have worsened the impact of COVID-19. And although sunlight may not be the best disinfectant when it comes to the coronavirus, shining a light on our response, and guaranteeing transparency around future preparedness, will begin to treat the peculiar disease that has infected our democratic institutions.

Once a vaccine or treatment is in sight, it may be tempting to put the coronavirus era behind us. But failure to take a hard look at our response is naive and dangerous and will leave us vulnerable to similar or worse outcomes in the future.

A nonpartisan 9/11-type commission must detail what went wrong and what we could do better if faced with another crisis, and the results of such an inquiry must be made public. To facilitate a greater understanding of the United States’ response to this pandemic, the next administration must also declassify and release COVID-19 information that was inappropriately classified by the current president. There can be no coverup. And if corruption or deliberate wrongdoing tainted this administration’s response to the pandemic, there must be accountability.

Data, analysisWe must understand the health and economic effect of the pandemic on a micro level to address the inequitable burdens felt by populations such as immigrant and Native American communities, people of color, LGBTQ and differently abled individuals and people at all levels of the economic spectrum. The U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, which is intended to capture data on how Americans’ lives have been affected by the pandemic, should be extended beyond its current 90-day window and expanded to ensure it reaches vulnerable and marginalized populations.

But even the most thorough and thoughtful analysis will be meaningless if, as a country, we fail to take action to address the lessons learned. And we need not wait for a report to begin putting systems in place that will better prepare us to blunt the effect of the next pandemic threat.

It should be axiomatic that scientific integrity is crucial to public health decisions. Government scientists must be able to carry out and share their research without fear of reprisal. Advisory committees that provide recommendations to federal agencies should be staffed with experts and their work should be transparent.

The country’s level of preparedness should also be transparent, so that public health systems, state and local governments and businesses large and small can better address another health crisis. The strategic national stockpile should be audited regularly, with reports of quantities and quality of life-saving medical supplies reported to Congress and governors. The methods and formulas used to distribute supplies from the stockpile should also be transparent to ensure all states can access supplies fairly and to ensure that political decisions do not influence which states will be eligible to receive federal support.

Transparency, coordinationCorporate interests should not undermine public health decisions, especially during a pandemic. Shortages of medicines or vaccines should not be deemed confidential commercial information and companies receiving taxpayer funds for a pandemic response should be subject to the Freedom of Information Act. Whistleblowers who report on the misuse of funds should be protected from retaliation. Data transparency should be a condition of federal funding for clinical research.

As was the case after 9/11, siloed information and the failure of agencies to communicate with one another has put the public at risk. The dissolution of the National Security Council Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense left a void where there should be a clear structure and strategy for coordinated pandemic preparedness and response. A robust mechanism is needed to ensure decision-makers across federal agencies and states are on the same page.

In the midst of this crisis, much remains unknown. Will we get sick? Are our jobs secure? What will our communities look like when it is safe to return to some semblance of normal life? But where there is information that should be known — facts related to the science of the virus, our preparedness and the impact of the outbreak — it is incumbent upon our leaders to inform the public.

Lisa Rosenberg is the executive director of Open The Government, a non-partisan government transparency and accountability coalition.

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