It was the first Saturday in March when Berkshire County saw its index case of COVID-19. When a man in Clarksburg tested positive for the virus on March 7, 2020, few could have foreseen the seismic shifts portended by a single infection in a small town.

Now, almost exactly two years later, we are still picking up the pieces of a world shattered by pandemic.

With COVID-related measures like masking orders and gathering restrictions all but withered away, this spring hopefully will bring the warmth of the light at the end of the COVID tunnel. Even as the numbers continue to show the pandemic’s steady decline, the U.S. is closing in on the morbid milestone of 1 million deaths. That unfathomable loss of precious lives is the most grievous toll exacted by this insidious disease, but it’s not the only one. COVID also cratered our economy from Main Street to international supply lines; exposed the cracks in a society with deep, festering inequality; pressurized our already dangerously polarized politics.

It would compound our losses if we were to shirk the responsibilities we now owe to ourselves, our society and all those we have lost. As we recover from COVID and return to relatively normal, there is still so much we need to learn about exactly what happened, the substance of our response and how we should face similar crisis in the future. A broad study effort should and will dive into of every facet of COVID’s impact. When the pandemic first took hold, even the experts didn’t know exactly what was gripping us — a reality that hindered a health response as well as our leaders’ ability to communicate about it in public.

Even after two years of painfully earned knowledge about this deadly virus, we have much to learn. That includes aspects of the virus itself — its origin, its long-term effects on the infected and the possibility of future variants.

Perhaps more important, though, is a thorough assessment of our reaction to COVID — all the way from the level of global and national institutions down to state health departments, local boards of health and school districts. Now is the time for a robust look at what worked and what didn’t work. Reams of research with the benefit of hindsight will unearth critical comparative data on actions taken by differing nations, states and communities. We owe it to ourselves and the health of our society’s future to assess this data with clear eyes unobscured by political lenses.

Further, we must think carefully about structural questions that necessarily have a sociopolitical element. When assessing the public health threat of a viral pandemic, what are the necessary conditions and criteria of lockdowns? COVID laid bare a world more connected by globalization but still ill-prepared for life-altering viruses that can race across the globe in no time. What about various countries’ behavior — from China’s shady posture at the outset to more transparent governments where variants emerged like the United Kingdom and South Africa — can inform better international partnership and warning systems for future pandemics? The infectiousness of the virus and the measures to curb its spread caused unprecedented isolation, which accelerated our society’s worrying atomization and a worsening mental health crisis. Will we heed this alarm and finally prioritize mental and behavioral health care parity as addiction and suicide trends worsen?

Like any one entity we can’t pretend to have the answers. The necessary studies will come and go, and hopefully bring those critical answers sooner than later. There is one thing that can’t be learned in a lab or survey that the COVID crisis should imprint on all of us: humility. Sometimes the biggest thing hitting us is something we yet know nothing about. Sometimes we must move forward amid great uncertainty. That uncertainty surely played a big part in making many people susceptible to COVID misinformation and conspiracy-mongers. It also hobbled public health experts and a leadership class that struggled with communicating about that uncertainty, to say nothing of the often lacking ability to communicate “the science.” That this term has been so politicized in America is proof of just how poorly our leaders from across the spectrum failed to build public trust and properly engage a worried populace.

We shouldn’t have politicized the pandemic then, and we can’t afford to politicize our aftermath assessment now. COVID-19 is often compared to the 1918 flu, the only public health crisis of comparable magnitude in modern history. Two years after COVID’s onset, we are much better positioned to learn about our viral enemy than our ancestors were a century ago.

The question is not whether this information will reveal itself, but whether we can rise above petty politics long enough to properly onboard it. Do not read this data as a liberal or a conservative. Absorb it as one who cares about how we will handle the next infectious disease crisis — because there will be one, and it could be worse.