Given the grave toll of the COVID-19 pandemic — more than half a million Americans dead and counting plus millions more suffering from sickness and economic anxiety — we can’t afford not to learn from it.
An explosive election season left many calling for a national commission on democracy. A similar effort would go a long way toward properly taking stock after the coronavirus crisis subsides.
To better equip the U.S. for future global health emergencies, we need a blue-ribbon committee to thoroughly assess our response to this one.
After COVID, we will be happy to not have to talk about viral respiratory pandemics. Nevertheless, if we’re serious, we will demand a clear-eyed view of exactly what happened and how we responded — the good, the bad and the ugly.
The nature of the global supply chain means highly infectious zoonotic outbreaks aren’t going away, and we must face that reality.
We will certainly have troves of data to analyze and contextualize, from readiness and contagion spread to the efficacy — and downsides — of preventive measures over time. The novel coronavirus caught the world and particularly the U.S. flat-footed, and our reaction deserves thoughtful, multifaceted critique.
This began with Donald Trump’s White House foolishly dismantling a pandemic response unit and worsened with the administration often ignoring basic science. But while the former president’s critics might find it easy to point out Mr. Trump’s, building up our country’s defenses requires a deeper analysis.
America’s just-in-time supply lines were tested and, in some cases, proved lacking. That the richest and most powerful country in the world stumbled at first with supply, production and dissemination of basic but crucial items like facemasks is testament to that.
Official communication often left much to be desired, as well. Speaking frankly to an entire populace about complex phenomena like viral pandemics is hard, even for experts, but it’s clear that we must get much better at it.
When masks were initially in short supply, public health experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci and then-Surgeon General Jerome Adams told us that masking was unnecessary in a misguided attempt to prevent the public from buying them all up.
These short-sighted strategies have consequences — in this case a great deal of confusion, a loss of legitimacy among experts who toed that dishonest line and diminished buy-in when mask-wearing became an important public health measure.
We should take a hard look at lockdown procedures, too — their effectiveness, justification thresholds and side effects. Having a patchwork of state rules instead of unifying federal policy certainly hamstrung the U.S.; states with strict preventive measures are easily undermined by neighboring states with more lax rules. Beyond that, though, lockdowns come with costs — social, economic, educational and medical. Properly assessing risk to better know when and how to implement lockdowns is a tough call we must get better at making.
Even as we emerge from this crisis, countless questions will abound. We need a multidisciplinary troop of experts to pinpoint the most-important questions and hopefully hone in on answers. And, crucially, this must be an apolitical endeavor. From former President Trump to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, there is plenty of blame to go around across the political spectrum.
A proper accounting, however, will require rising above conflict between parties and factions to get to what’s best for America going forward.
Petty polarization, after all, certainly faltered our national efforts, and the effects of turning a public health issue into a culture war fight are still seen now in the partisan breakdown of important factors like vaccine skepticism. Addressing — and avoiding — this polarization now will be key to mitigating it in future public health crises.
For the foreseeable future, our world will bear the scars of the novel coronavirus, a pandemic that has planted itself as a grim mile-marker in our psyches. For many, our memories and even history itself will be divided in twain: before COVID and after COVID. After COVID, the last thing we will want to do is take a hard look back at this traumatic ordeal. Yet we must endeavor to fully extract the lessons from this brutal pandemic and the pain it has wrought.
If not, we are far more likely to suffer it again in the future.
We have to heal from our wounds — and learn from them, too. This will not be the last pandemic. As a nation, the best way to prepare for the next one is to have our best and brightest comprehensively assess our response to this one.
To this end, President Joe Biden should commit to creating a post-COVID-19 commission.