The COVID-19 Pandemic has shown the US, as well as most other governments and nations, is not prepared to cope with major widespread outbreaks of highly lethal, highly infectious diseases. Having failed to detect and contain the novel Corona virus before it was dispersed around the globe, the International Community did not prevent the Peoples of the world from being exposed to a highly infectious, highly lethal, and extremely robust respiratory virus. Faced with no immediate treatment options, outside of life-sustaining interventions, and insufficient resources to provide care for a huge swath of the population, the American People and their leaders reacted by both initially ignoring the impending crisis and/or panicking, which resulted in shortages of household items like toilet paper and bread as well as basic healthcare supplies like disposable gloves and face masks. The Federal government attempted to downplay the threat and left State governments to shutter their schools and businesses as part of a haphazard effort to mass quarantine an unknown number of infected with symptoms and without symptoms in what might be, ultimately, a vein effort to slow the spread of the Cororna virus.
A novel respiratory virus that has a high mortality rate and no proven cure is a nightmare scenario for the Peoples and leaders of the world. From the perspective of healthcare professionals, the only best option is to try to contain the virus as early as possible in order to prevent the global healthcare system from being overwhelmed and to buy researchers enough time to find a viable treatment option. In the case of COVID-19, public health advisors naturally turned to the standard approach to addressing a pandemic. They advised political leaders to isolate the infected, both those with symptoms and carriers without any symptoms, as researchers set out to figure out what treatment options might be most effective. Policymakers, in turn, were left to adopt public policies based on the guidance of healthcare professionals and the needs of the public as they attempted to weigh the costs of action and inaction. The two basic approaches were to react via psuedo-quarantines as well as to trivialize the crisis. As the virus spread, the two emerging camps were those who felt too little was being done and those who felt two much was being. Unfortunately, the virus had already spread beyond containment, which left the developed world to deal with something it had not experienced in nearly a century.
Ultimately, the governments of the United States chose to embrace an economic crisis to address an unfolding public health crisis of an unknown scope. Their psuedo-quanrenties, which largely depended on voluntary “social distancing” and “self-quarentines,” were very loosely enforced by State efforts to limit public gatherings by closing nonessential businesses, schools, and other public venues. Some statistics suggest areas instituting strict lock-downs, such as the San Francisco Bay Area, have managed to slow the spread of COVID-19, but there is no guarantee the infection rates with not eventually spike or fewer people will be infected while less strict approaches may not have any impact on the spread of the virus or the outcome of the pandemic. The high cost cure may not actually be a cure. For the American People, who were already culturally traumatized by the impact of the 2008-2009 Great Recession and the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks, the stress of unemployment and financial uncertainty, coupled with the stress of health concerns and social isolation, may be more devastating than the impact of the actual Corona virus. With adult generations of Americans primed to react to major crises as though they are unmanageable catastrophes, the cure to the COVID-19 Pandemic could prove much worse than the disease.
Although the world has achieved victory against other highly lethal and infectious diseases in the past, such as the Spanish Flu and Measles, the nations of the world are now part of a globalized economy and globalized International Community. The Peoples of the world, especially the citizens of wealthy industrial nations, rely on national and international commerce for everyday goods and jobs. Just as goods and wealth can easily spread around the globalized economy, so can diseases. As such, the lack of the regional compartmentalization that once helped slow the spread of diseases no longer exists. Worse yet, the global economy is not set up to enable regions to close their physical and economic borders whenever necessary. That is without crippling consequences. This means governments and business leaders at all levels around the globe are highly incentivized to risk potential public health crises instead of certain economic crises. If the pain of the COVID-19 Pandemic ultimately appears to be worse than the impact of the disease, community leaders will be even less likely in the future to take proactive steps to prevent the spread of diseases, which could easily be more lethal than COVID-19.
Recognizing the realities of the modern economy and the ever-growing threat of globalized crises like pandemics, governments and businesses need to be better prepared for the future. Unfortunately, political leaders from around the world have been slow to implement lessons already learned. After the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks, the US took leadership on globalized terrorism, but overreacted and over-focused on the threat of globalized terrorism to the detriment of responses to other more likely and more catastrophic disasters. In the wake of the 2005 Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita, the US realized it had failed to both buildup its infrastructure to withstand the impact of ever-intensifying natural disasters and to build-up its emergency response capacity. The US hyper-focused on national security while neglecting disaster response. Thanks to COVID-19, the same has become apparent in terms of disease control. The Great Recession revealed the US had hyper-focused on perpetual economic growth of the “Wall Street” economy rather than long-term economy stability and the health of the “Main Street” economy. The US took steps to correct the fallout of the economic disaster, but it did not aggressively pursue economic policies that would help secure the Main Street economy, which is apparent thanks to COVID-19 as well.
While preventing diseases from becoming pandemics is the best approach, nightmare scenarios, which are going to happen, need to be confronted more aggressively before costly, large-scale interventions are the only obvious solution. The economy needs to allow individuals and communities to address sickness without imposing crippling costs onto individuals and businesses. People need to be able to afford to take days off without fear of job loss or financial ruin. Between public policy and business solutions, there needs to be efforts to ease the financial burden of taking a sick day, especially for low-income workers and to ensure people have access to healthcare. The often unaddressed costs of illness to business have become very apparent thanks to COVID-19. For businesses, loans are no substitute for revenue. Too much debt can easily make small businesses nonviable, especially when they are deprived of revenue, labor, and goods for weeks and months. Given that businesses take years to build-up, everyone has an interest in helping businesses operate in public health crises without them becoming major vectors for diseases. To accomplish all these things, there needs to be a greater focus on stabilizing and securing local economies in line with the common interests of community members.
From restarting the economy to dealing with sickness, government needs to have a better response to outbreaks, other than “shut it down.” First of all, efforts to isolate regions, individuals, communities, and regions on a global scale at the onset of a deadly outbreak need to be more robust. For governments, this means creating a political and economic environment that encourages proactive responses. It also means building-up the national and international infrastructure needed to address crises of this nature. For the medical industry and industry in general, governments need to secure and diversify global supply lines. Transforming the way America conducts commerce with the world and the way the global economy works would help address these and other economic concerns. National economies must be rebuilt with industries that serve the local needs of a population with locally plentiful resources that are as local as possible with excess production being used to participate in the global economy. Building stable, healthy localized economies that participate in a health, stable global economy is the only way to provide the security and compartmentalization needed to weather the storms of a major disaster like the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Furthermore, government needs to be more proactive in confronting outbreaks when they do occur. Instead of reacting to situations they have almost no ability to prevent, political and other community leaders need to focus on triage. This starts with identifying those who are most at risk and their most pressing needs. The elderly, young children, and those with compromised immune systems are, in general, the most susceptible to disease, so the goal must be to ensure these individuals do not come into contact with the infected, their daily needs continue to be met, and medical care is available to them as soon as they show symptoms of the disease. Beyond redoubling efforts by the government and healthcare industry to safeguard these individuals, there needs to be a greater community effort to help the volunerable. So the rest of society can continue to function amid an outbreak, communities and individuals need to do more to help those who are most at risk, e.g. grocery shop for them, so they do not need to leave their houses. Businesses, other organizations, and individuals also need more robust guidance at the outset of an outbreak to prevent the need for a total economic shutdown. Moving forward, the infrastructure also needs to be in place to ensure medical researchers are able to immediately ramp up their efforts to find potential treatment options and to ensure healthcare providers have the ability to get medical supplies when they see spikes in their local caseloads. Finally, government needs to be prepared to take a more measured approach to steer resources to areas most in need and to more judiciously impose restrictions on our freedom of motion so it only helps prevents the spread of disease.
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