With the federal and state government still struggling to coordinate the roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccine, it’s no time to give up on the precautions that are containing the spread of the disease. That means that we need to keep wearing masks, staying socially distant and washing our hands frequently. But with an end to the crisis now on the horizon, it’s time to look to the future.
If you have grown weary of hearing the phrase “these unprecedented times,” it’s worth a second thought. There have been pandemics in the past, and there absolutely will be others in the future.
As a nation, as a state, as a county, as individual towns, and even as families, we need to be ready to take a close look at what worked well during the pandemic and what we could have done better. Maybe as individuals we can commit to keeping up to date on our family disaster plans and stockpile of emergency supplies, now almost certain to include personal protective equipment. But at all levels of government, there needs to be an exhaustive review of the failures and successes of the COVID-19 pandemic response.
It’s clear that the failures are significant. Could the death toll have been lower? Could the government and health care providers have been better equipped? Could the flow of critical information have been standardized to allow a swift, coordinated response? Do existing health privacy laws interfere with that process? Did our existing, decentralized health care system provide the best possible response? Did relief programs target those who most needed help?
Once the dust settles – and we don’t expect that for another year, anyway – the federal government needs to appoint a nonpartisan special commission to investigate its effort. The state should also have a special panel of legislators to conduct a similar review, with close collaboration with the health care, public health, business and education sectors. The county must carry out a detailed debriefing on its many successes during the pandemic response, and weigh its shortfalls. And each town should appoint an ad hoc committee to advise its select board in a similar fashion. At each level, we need to listen to the results of these reports and commit to investing resources to implement any recommendations they make.
We are all aching for the day when we can put COVID-19 in our rear view mirror. But if we don’t learn every possible lesson from this experience, we’re doomed to repeat costly mistakes.