As we settle into our new normal within the world of COVID-19 and evaluate the ongoing national response to the Coronavirus outbreak, we’ve seen varying degrees of effectiveness in managing the viruses spread across all levels of government. Regardless of where one stands on the political spectrum, there has been chaos, confusion, and uncertainty about the future amongst both sides of the political table. We’ve reached a critical crossroad, where political interests and loyalties meet humanitarian decision-making with economic implications…two ingredients in a recipe for disaster.
From the most senior administrators, the delay in prioritizing the virus as an impending catastrophic event led to the chaotic response that ensued across the country, particularly in Washington, New York, and California. Although, what is occurring is unprecedented, there were instruments and safety nets in place to prevent an all-out failure by leadership in foreseeing the disaster associated with viral events such as this. In 2015, on the heels of dealing with an Ebola crisis, then President Obama requested common sense, bi-partisan support from Congress in funding a Pandemic Response Team so that “5 years from now or a decade from now” the U.S. would be poised to respond to another flu-strain. Exactly 5 years after that request, the globe is under siege from a flu-strain that has crippled world markets, invoked fear and panic, and has shown how unprepared we were for what was forewarned. Exacerbating the effects of the virus was the decision to disassemble the Pandemic Response Team in 2018 for fiduciary reasons, as well as the firing of the CDC liaison strategically positioned in China’s CDC equivalent agency. The early warning systems put in place were haphazardly dismantled piece by piece until we could barely see what was in front of us, the fog of war becoming thicker by the minute.
On a state level, the responses by Governor Cuomo and many others have been inspiring, especially when considering the added challenge of citizens feeling their constitutional rights are being infringed upon through the “shelter-in-place” orders. Spring breakers refused to have their getaway from school ruined and continued to crowd the beaches, party, and risk their own safety for a few days of vacation. As a resident of Florida, it has been noticeable how behind the curve our state was in issuing lockdowns and closures. The Spring Breakers and snowbirds that refused to leave the beaches continued to cause additional personnel management issues for hospitals and emergency responders as their recklessness continued to inundate hospitals with positive cases as healthcare workers burned through Personal Protective Equipment faster than it could be resupplied. Being weeks into the response, the decisions of Governors across the country are going to drive the direction the virus takes. Similar to Hurricane Katrina, where the storm’s initial impact was tough, but manageable, the flooding from the broken levees led to the unsettling images that were burned into our nation’s Emergency Management history. The state response is similar to the levees, if they fail to control the building pressure to prematurely reopen government the secondary wave is going to be catastrophic and the damage irreparable.
As we continue to navigate these uncharted waters, we mustn’t forget those who are looking to us for guidance, strength, and leadership. On a world stage, the past few weeks have shown us that despite the hope we place in others to do the right thing, when push comes to shove, people tend to resort to primal instincts of placing “I” above all. The hoarders and price gouging are exhibiting the worst of our society and sending a terrible message to our foreign allies and enemies alike that the U.S. may not be worthy of the head of the international table. Our inability to manage supply lines, show common decency for others, or to protect our first responders are clear-tell signs that we may not be the tip of the spear as we think of ourselves to be.
It’s easy to identify the surface-level impacts, but we cannot overlook the generational impacts occurring. Our Baby Boomers and Gen-X are the most at-risk for health related complications and death, while our Millennials and Gen-Z are dealing with a sudden financial downward spiral with the highest unemployment rate in our country’s history. Looking to the future, our youngest generation is experiencing a lesser-discussed crisis with potentially greater impact on their developing personas. COVID-19 has forced school closures around the nation and led to more questions than answers regarding our children’s educational future. With Virginia closing schools for the remainder of the school year and Florida contemplating reopening on 01 May, how do we ensure kids’ re-entry to school is as least impactful on their acclimation back to a classroom environment after forcing online education during a pandemic? Do they repeat the grade? Are they required to attend summer school to make up missed lessons? Are students who don’t have access to technology in-home responsible for missing work when their parents were depending on their attendance at school throughout the year for their education? We as a nation have to do better if not for our own safety and security, then for the safety and security of our most vulnerable populations.