House Hearing Held on Investigating the Origins of COVID-19

The Maine Writer
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Today, the House held a hearing to investigate the origins of COVID-19. Witnesses providing testimony included the former director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Dr. Robert Redfield, the Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council, Dr. Jamie Metzl, the former science and health editor at the New York Times and former editor at both Science and Nature, Nicholas Wade, and the past president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, Paul G. Auwaerter, MD.

Dr. Redfield testified that he served as the director of the CDC from 2018–2021 and oversaw the CDC's response to the COVID-19 pandemic and also served as a member of the White House's Coronavirus Task Force. Dr. Redfield has spent 45 years in medicine focused on the study of viruses. Before his time as CDC director, he spent over 20 years as a US Army physician and medical researcher at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, where he served as the Chief of the Department of Retroviral Research. Dr. Redfield also co-founded the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in 1996 in partnership with the State of Maryland, the City of Baltimore, and the University System of Maryland. From the earliest days of the pandemic, Dr. Redfield's view was that both theories about the origin of COVID-19 needed to be aggressively and thoroughly examined. Those two theories were that the virus naturally mutated and became transmissible from one species to another, and the second theory was that the virus evolved in a lab involved in gain-of-function research. Dr. Redfield testified that, based on his analysis of the data, COVID was likely the result of an accidental lab leak. His conclusion is based primarily on the biology of the virus. Dr. Redfield said he believes there should be a call for a moratorium on gain-of-function research until there is a broad debate to determine how to conduct the research in a safe, responsible, and effective way.

Dr. Jamie Metzl testified that he was one of the earliest public voices calling for a full investigation into the origins of the COVID pandemic and launching a pandemic origins website in April 2020. Metzl says over three years ago, in the earliest days of the pandemic, he began looking at the available evidence and became convinced that a COVID-19 lab origin was at the very least a serious possibility needing to be fully investigated. By late January 2020, it was already clear that the Wuhan market was likely not where the pandemic began but rather a place where it spread rapidly. Wuhan did have multiple laboratories and institutes working on SARS-like viruses and the world’s largest collection of coronaviruses. The Wuhan Institute of Virology in particular had a recent history of doing aggressive research, genetically engineering new capabilities into SARS-like viruses, having a spotty safety record, and having such a problematic construction that the French engineers who designed the building refused to certify its completion. Metzl suggested a critical next step, which he has been promoting for three years, should be to establish a bipartisan US national COVID-19 commission, organized like the 9/11 commission. This commission would examine the origins issue as well as other failings and shortcomings on the national and international levels. Like the 9/11 commission, it would develop recommendations to help prevent future pandemics and ensure we respond more effectively when outbreaks inevitably occur. We must fully investigate pandemic origins and begin building the national and international norms, systems, and structures to prevent this type of catastrophe from ever happening again.

Nicholas Wade testified that the evidence of a lab leak has been building thanks to work by independent scientists and Freedom of Information Act requests. Wade said there are strong pieces of evidence in favor of a lab leak. First, the epidemic broke out not in some random Chinese city nor near the bat-infested caves of southern China, where the viruses are most likely to jump to people, but right in Wuhan, home of the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The institute is China’s leading center for coronavirus research. We know that scientists there were genetically engineering coronaviruses under seriously inadequate safety conditions. And we know that viruses escape from labs all the time. Common sense suggests that a lab leak cannot be dismissed with a wave of the hand. Second, the possibility that the virus was made in a lab became much more concrete with the recent surfacing of a grant proposal by the Wuhan researchers and others. Even Chinese researchers decline to pinpoint the Wuhan wet market as the source of the COVID epidemic, with a recent paper by the head of the Chinese CDC noting that “no virus was detected in the animal swabs covering 18 species of animals in the market” and that the origins of SARS-2 “remain to be determined.” Wade testified that gain of function research, however, got off on the wrong foot and that there needs to be a better scientific and regulatory consensus about the terms on which it can proceed.

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