Mitchell Chapman: We must never forget our coronavirus lessons

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PITTSFIELD — No one should be surprised we are facing a global pandemic like we are facing through COVID-19, otherwise known as the coronavirus. We live in an overcrowded world, where 55 percent of its population lives in close-quarter urban areas, according to the U.N. And that's expected to increase to 68 percent in 2050.

This is not to demonize cities. They are more energy-efficient per person and square inch than rural areas like the Berkshires, whose long automobile commutes and larger homes are no friends to the environment. But it stands to reason that a global, interconnected community of 7 billion people ought to have recognized a global pandemic as a major threat to its existence, especially at the level of the general public and its elected officials.

The scientific community has been anticipating such a pandemic for decades, but it would seem, like climate change, the issue was only taken seriously when a global crisis was at our doorsteps. As recent as last year, before the coronavirus outbreak, the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) listed a global influenza pandemic and high-threat pathogens (which included another type of coronavirus), as the third and fifth largest threats to global health, stating:

"The world will face another influenza pandemic — the only thing we don't know is when it will hit and how severe it will be. Global defences are only as effective as the weakest link in any country's health emergency preparedness and response system."

TRUMP IGNORED WARNING

It is important to note that influenza and the novel coronavirus are two different diseases caused by different viruses, but the fact that world health officials were certain a global pandemic would happen in the near future should cause great concern, especially considering that in 2018, President Donald Trump disbanded the White House's National Security Council directorate for global health and security and bio-defense, an office that was created by the Obama administration to prepare the nation for not if, but when the next pandemic would hit the nation, according to the Associated Press.

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Inversely, it's uncertain if, not when, life will return to normal. Everyone has been affected by the coronavirus in one form or another, whether that means working and learning virtually, having an extended spring break, dealing with toilet paper and other supply shortages, having your favorite sports league, film or live event canceled or postponed, worrying about older relatives, finding yourself having to spend more time in your home than you'd like to, or — if you have the virus— finding yourself stuck in quarantine, with some battling the virus for their lives.

And it's annoying, it's disruptive, and it some cases, it can be deflating, demoralizing and downright awful. But it's also a wake-up call that global pandemics are serious threats we have to address and prepare for, and so long as we continue to live in an overcrowded global community of over 7 billion people, this most certainly will not be our last pandemic.

HARD-EARNED LESSONS

There should be no surprise or shock that we're dealing with a disease like the coronavirus; the writing was on the wall for decades, and if we do manage to weather this virus unscathed, we must not forget the hard-earned lessons we acquire.

The coronavirus has exposed the fact that every entity of people, whether it be a private company, a government agency, a volunteer, board, or even a nonprofit hospital, needs pandemic contingency plans in place, we need better global pandemic infrastructure in place, and everybody needs access to quality health care during a pandemic, including but not limited to free or low-cost virus tests and (when they become available) vaccines. This is not the time for the health care industry to exploit the virus in order to reap huge profits because, for millions of people across the world, access to affordable health care could be life or death, and it is very clear that it is the role of government to step in when health care companies get out of line during a pandemic — it's a matter of national security, after all.

It is my hope that we can overcome the coronavirus, and like a vaccine, it will make the global community stronger and more prepared to fight future pandemics. The absolute worst thing we can do is to overcome this pandemic, revert back to the way things were, and be no better off for the next one.

Mitchell Chapman is an Eagle page designer/copy editor and freelance writer.


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