Bearing Witness to the Pandemic Causes and Lessons
When public policy experts, historians and future generations look back on what happened during the 2020 Coronavirus Pandemic and Global Recession, how will they judge why it happened across our planet to a species like our own? And especially why it was so devastating to a prosperous, supposedly advanced country like the U.S. that had the most capacity to head it off and minimize the damages once the virus came ashore.
Perhaps we will be wise enough to have our own “truth and reconciliation commission” to ask painful questions like the following and learn from the answers – serving justice where needed – about what was largely an avoidable man-made disaster. One that is on track to kill over 200,000 Americans and 1 million globally this year, all while changing the composition, character, and trajectory of our lives, communities, and economies for decades to come.
- Will they go to the source of the Coronavirus to fault our relationship with nature and the animal kingdom where we cage, conduct wildlife trade, and slaughter wild mammals and live amphibians in food stalls and markets around the world? Do these markets, and governments who allow them to exist, externalize to the rest of the world without consequence the health risks and financial costs of diseases that may arise from their operations ? And of course our never-ending growth in population, geographic expansion, and consumption of natural resources forces us to come into more and more contact and conflict with wildlife and their habitats.
- Nearly all of the worst plagues, pandemics, and influenzas in human history have originated as zoonotic pathogens that jumped the barrier from animals to humans. Why were we so unprepared, if not clueless, thinking that it would not happen again, or could not happen to us?
- How culpable were authoritarian and secretive governments in the early days of the coronavirus – both in Community China and sadly Trump’s America – for not being more forthcoming with what was happening and sharing it with their citizens and rest of the world? Did local officials suppress how bad it outbreaks had become from their national leaders, and thus not give the rest of the world more time to prepare? Did the silencing and imprisonment of a Chinese doctor, who first called attention and who would later die from it, keep others from speaking out when we had time? Were early warnings from American health experts muzzled by the malfeasance of our own politicians?
- Did the World Health Organization subjugate itself to the political wishes of the Chinese government, not wanting to offend such a big source of funding? Did they wait too long to declare both a world health emergency and then a pandemic?
- How much responsibility lies with the fanatic dogma of free markets, unencumbered global trade, unfettered capitalism, and open borders? Especially when public policies to put in guardrails and investments to provide safety nets were absent for those times then things go wrong and which we had many examples to serve as warnings.
- Were we too slow in restricting travel and closing borders to international travelers? And when we did, we erred by banning Asians but not Europeans, seemingly clueless that most of the early infection clusters in the US would come from Europe, not China.
- Will they blame our president who ignored early warnings from his own intelligence agencies and federal scientists, then downplayed the risk saying it would soon disappear and that we had it totally under control, among so many other lies. The avoidance and ignorance was especially costly during the early weeks when we had time to prepare and protect the country before it was out of control.
- What if we would have had a president and state governors who rallied us to practice social distancing, wear masks, and stay at home as a conservative act of patriotism to fight a war on an enemy virus that had invaded our country? Instead, we had the president and many governors rebelling against recommendations from public health officials in their rush to reopen the economy at the cost of avoidable suffering and fatalities. This then fueled the “liberate” movement and made a grave public health matter a partisan, political issue.
- How responsible were the federal agencies which obviously suffered from poor decision making and myopic planning, likely due to institutional group think and biases that kept them from preparing what-if scenarios? And why was the CDC muzzled when of all agencies they should have taken the lead in educating the public and directing the nation’s response using science, not politics, as a guide?
- Did the fact that many senior members of the administration, including from the cabinet, were new, in acting roles, or without relevant experience to lead their agencies? How shortsighted was it to have removed a pandemic function from the White House national security office?
- Why did most of the administration, including President Trump, largely abdicate their responsibility to formulate and coordinate a national response and turn it over to state governments who were even less prepared for an emergency of this magnitude and duration?
- How could disaster agencies like FEMA be caught so flat footed when experts had been warning about a crisis like one from a pandemic for decades? In planning for this type of national disaster, how naïve or negligent were we to outsource and offshore the production of so much of the nation’s emergency medical supplies including personal protection equipment, drugs, and other medical devices?
- Will they blame profiteers, private equity funds, and global oligarchs for buying up and brokering medical supplies like PPE, selling them at outrageous prices to a country, the US, that no longer produced what was needed in an emergency?
- Did our lack of adequate investment in public health programs finally catch up with us? For decades we have wanted our economy and population to grow grow grow, but we just did not want to increase investments and pay the taxes required to support all that growth. In fact, health departments around their country saw their budgets shrink by double digits over the past decade despite the populations they served growing.
- What about the lack of political will to invest in health care for all Americans and expand programs like Medicaid? Especially in poorer states which suffer from a lack of hospitals and primary care doctors, all compounded by populations that are less healthy.
- How important in the spread of the virus was the fact that we do not offer universal health care that was not dependent on employment, paid sick leave, or child care especially for the most vulnerable families and essential workers who we depended upon to show up to work?
- Will they find it astonishing that we did not have the capacity or leadership to scale up testing of large populations such that we could quickly quarantine those infected without having to shutdown the entire damn economy?
- How much responsibility do we as individuals have, knowing that Covid-19 was most deadly to those of us in poor health often due to our own lifestyle choices such as poor diets, being overweight, smoking, or lack of exercise?
- Was there too much faith put into thinking that new technologies, or just doing more and faster of what we had always done with old technologies, would save us in a crisis?
- What does it say about the nature of capitalism and our economy, along with how we value hard labor, when more than half of all workers are considered non-essential? The nation was shuttered for months with some 200 million family members, workers, and students locked down in quarantine at home. Yet the power was still on, most foods were in supply, water sill flowed, and life went on for most of us.
- How obvious it is now that the most important jobs in our economy to keep things running, the essential works, are the lowest paid with the most dangerous working conditions, the worse benefits and often considered disposable. Meanwhile, non-essential professional workers stayed safely at home and earned many multiples of what essential workers were paid.
- Were we lulled into thinking that we would be protected by a conservative politicians and political party that staked its claim on protecting America from invasions of all sorts, including migrants, was still investing billions of dollars in old, obsolete forms of warfare and walls along our borders?
- What circumstances led African Americans, Hispanics, the elderly, institutionalized, disabled and others with preexisting conditions to die at such disparate rates so much higher than the rest of the country? Are we willing to faceup to the fact that our economy has built into it a form of systemic racism that has created and exploited an economic caste system to perpetuate itself.
- Because of our lack of preparation, have we fallen prematurely into a brave new world of digital transformation that is going to be far more remote, virtual and digital in the future, compared to the nearby, live and analog world we left behind?
- Have we just lost the middle class and middle market of stores, restaurants, and service providers which makes our main streets so diverse and welcoming to all? Did the pandemic accelerate the creation of two economies and two different recoveries; one of Walmart, high unemployment and rising inequality for the working class and the other of a home deliveries, a soaring stock market, and private jet flight vacations?
- Will local and state governments ever fully recover in our lifetime to provide the public services that so determine our quality and safety of everyday life from transportation to first responders?
- Did we place too much faith in a national economy based increasingly upon endless consumption, perpetual growth, increasing debt, offshore production and just-in-time manufacturing, all which contributed to reduced resiliency and increased dependency upon others in a time of crisis? All as evidenced that our economy did not shut down and enter into a depression because we lacked employees to produce what was needed, but because our consumers were unable to get out and spend spend spend.
- Or did we think that an economy dominated by big multinational firms who had merged and acquired their way to becoming bloated, and now with less competition and redundancy offered less robustness than that from millions of smaller businesses, producers, distributors, and manufacturers?
- What about companies, governments, and consumers that failed to save enough to get thru a rather predictable crisis? So when a financial emergency occurred so many had to be bailed out of their own bad decisions and risky choices as if there would never be a rainy day.
Yes, a lot of questions to ask of ourselves and contributing factors to debate. Like most man-made disasters there were multiple reasons it occurred. Obviously, some of these played a more important role than others. But what is clear is that there were plenty of opportunities to have slowed or arrested the virus contagion, if not prevented it all together.
Let us hope the lives, suffering, deaths, economic hardship, irreversible changes to culture, and lost futures that have impacted millions around the globe produce much soul searching to avoid this once again in the future. We will see, we will see.
Featured image is from AZ Quotes at https://www.azquotes.com/quote/927615.