With so many amazing advances in medical technology, it’s difficult to fathom that we were so woefully underprepared for the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, advancements in medical research and knowledge don’t translate to pandemic preparedness.
While the COVID-19 virus was a novel event for many of us, pandemics aren’t a novel event for humankind. A few factors contributed to the lack of preparation that impacted the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of these issues were related, while others were unassociated, but they still led to our poor response.
The Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) is intended to prepare America for an emergency like the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, America made several mistakes when working with federal contractors to acquire needed COVID supplies. One such mistake involved a federal contract that sought to achieve ventilators and led to states receiving units that had dry rot or were entirely unusable.
Even before the rise of COVID-19, the SNS wasn’t adequately prepared for a nationwide emergency. In March 2020, there were only 12,700 ventilators available for distribution, thanks to multiple federal contracts falling through.
Moving forward, America will need to better monitor the progress and results of federal contracts that provide us with the equipment we need to promptly respond to a health emergency like the COVID-19 pandemic.
Unfortunately, even from the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the response to the virus became politicized. Scientific facts were ignored in favor of political loyalty.
Issues arose between aligning local and state health agency recommendations with guidance from the CDC. And when citizens received confusing and conflicting information, they were less likely to understand the actual severity.
So little was known about COVID-19 when it first arose that it was challenging to give citizens accurate information from the onset of the pandemic. In the future, leaders need to broadcast a united, transparent front that admits to, rather than ignores, mistakes in their pandemic response.
While not much can be done about each state’s or town’s ability to enact their pandemic response, following scientific guidance rather than unfounded beliefs or politically-motivated data will promote the best possible answer.
Prior to 2020, modern America didn’t have much recent experience dealing with a pandemic. This is a stark contrast to Asian countries, like South Korea and Taiwan, which had faced a 2015 outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome/MERS (South Korea) and a 2003 outbreak of SARS (Taiwan).
As a result, both of these countries had rapid and effective responses to the COVID-19 pandemic due to the prepared infrastructure established due to their recent pandemics.
The same can’t be said for the US. Now that the US has a recent pandemic experience, it can make policy adjustments to ensure a better response to the next pandemic.
When (not if) the next pandemic occurs, memories of the COVID-19 pandemic will be a stark reminder of why things have to be different this time.