NEWARK — U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., says it should be a "national outrage" that a commission has not yet been created by Congress to pinpoint the nation's mistakes related to its pandemic response and make recommendations for future health crises, given the fact that COVID-19 has claimed exponentially more lives than 9/11.

Speaking outside University Hospital in Newark on Monday with health care workers and families of those who've died from COVID-19, Menendez renewed his push for a bipartisan coronavirus commission, similar to the commission created in the wake of the 2001 terror attacks.

Menendez and Sen. Susan Collins, R-ME, are the main names behind The National Coronavirus Commission Act of 2021, which aims to make a full and complete accounting of the nation's preparedness and response.

"This is not about pointing fingers; it is about identifying what went right, what went wrong, learning from our mistakes and making sure we do not repeat them," Menendez said. "Never again must the United States of America be caught with its guard down in the face of a deadly and contagious virus."

COVID-19 has contributed to more than 600,000 deaths in the U.S., including more than 26,000 confirmed and probable deaths in New Jersey.

"For every COVID death, there are an estimated nine close family members left behind. That's an estimated 5.4 million Americans left with PTSD, feelings of guilt and anxiety, lack of closure, and the burden of knowing that their loved ones died traumatized, isolated, and alone. No family deserves this," said Sabila Khan, founder of the COVID-19 Loss Support for Family & Friends.

Khan, who lost her father to COVID-19, said the nation must take a "full and unvarnished look at what happened and why." An independent and comprehensive commission, she said, must not only include the voices of the bereaved, but the voices of frontline workers and COVID long-haulers as well.

Shereef Elnahal, president and CEO of University Hospital, recently testified before Congress that the U.S. is much more prepared for a public health crisis compared to last year, but said major reform is needed to truly prepare the nation's health care system for another wide-scale emergency.

"An independent, 9/11-style commission to investigate the nation's pandemic response, including recommendations that will require action at every level of leadership, could ultimately be a lifesaving endeavor when the next pandemic occurs," Elnahal said.

Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

NJ cracks down on polluters at these 9 sites

State environmental officials are working to get several property owners to clean up their acts around New Jersey, including in Middlesex, Mercer and Atlantic Counties.

Illegal dumping and gas and chemical contamination of water and soil are among the issues at hand in the state's lawsuits and requested court orders.

Seven lawsuits focused on "overburdened" communities address pollution in Camden, Trenton, Kearny, Secaucus, Edison, Bridgeton and Egg Harbor City, while two additional cases are based in Butler and Vineland.