On Thursday, July 1, the first meeting of a legislatively-created task force to examine the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic was held in Montgomery. During the 2021 Legislative Session, amidst a flurry of bills being introduced related to the pandemic (like Sen. McClendon’s bill to abolish the position of State Health Officer and abolish the State Committee of Public Health), the Medical Association asked state lawmakers to “press pause” on any such bills until an out-of-session, full and complete analysis of pandemic response could be completed. That request was largely honored, and a task force was created to do just that.
At the task force’s inaugural meeting, Gov. Kay Ivey, Senate President Pro Tem Greg Reed and House Speaker Mac McCutcheon addressed members of the task force. All three agreed the past year created unprecedented challenges for Alabamians and that while there may have been and in some instances may continue to be disagreement among some regarding how the state handled certain things, the desire of the Governor, Sen. Reed and Speaker McCutcheon was for the task force to identify positive steps the state can take for the future. Sen. Reed reminded the group there wasn’t a “manual” for how to manage a global pandemic within Alabama but that he wanted their help in moving the state forward.
“We aren’t interested in rock throwing here,” Sen. Reed said. “We want this group to identify how Alabama can be better prepared for the next pandemic.”
Speaker McCutheon echoed his words, adding COVID-19 had continued to change so rapidly that it made responding effectively difficult at times. He thanked State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris and the Governor for their work and leadership during the pandemic. Speaker McCutcheon said he wanted to be sure the task force had “facts to promote our [recommended] actions.”
In her remarks, Gov. Ivey encouraged Alabamians who haven’t been vaccinated to do so and outlined the “team effort” between her administration, Dr. Harris and the Health Department, Director Brian Hastings and the state Emergency Management Department and others. She also acknowledged that business closures, the many lives lost and setbacks in education as some of the most difficult effects of the pandemic.
“The response to the pandemic wasn’t perfect,” Gov. Ivey said, “and we regret some of the decisions made but [ultimately] we prevailed.”
Task force co-chair Sen. Tim Melson, M.D., said his intention was for the task force to be a “fact-finding and not a fault-finding committee.” Rep. Paul Lee, House Health Chairman and co-chair of the task force, said COVID-19 had been “a moving target” and that “hindsight is 20/20”. Both Sen. Melson and Rep. Lee welcomed ideas from committee members and the public as to how to improve Alabama’s pandemic response moving forward. The task force plans to meet again before the end of the summer.