In a matter of just a few weeks, the coronavirus pandemic has fundamentally changed the world and profoundly altered the life of us in the United States. Right now, more people are getting sick and more people are dying, and it might even get worse in the following days or weeks. However, it is not too soon to think about how we can begin to come out of this and what kind of changes we need to make to be more prepared for a catastrophe like this in the future. This pandemic has ripped apart the fabric of normalcy of our nation thus revealing what is broken in our system, bringing to light power and leadership flaws, and exposing our deepest fears and the things we value.
There is a lot of talk about going back to normal. We should not be thinking in terms of going back to what we called normal before Covid-19; why would we want to? Yesterday’s normal won’t work on today’s reality. The normal we want to go back to is a set of circumstances, mentality, and decision making from the past that took us to the precarious situation where we are in today. Do we wish to return to similar circumstances, mentality and decision making that got us into this mess in the first place or do we want to learn from past mistakes and build a safer and stronger society? Nobody knows what normal looks like anymore. Sadly, what we are living today is the new normal and from this place of uncertainty and fear we need to heal and create a new set of circumstances that protect and harness us all.
Government and private enterprise are talking about re-opening the country and going back to business as usual. The goal should not be to go back to business as usual because business as usual brought us to the mess we are in today. The goal should be to fight this epidemic aggressively in all its manifestations while moving forward to build a “new business as usual” that is compassionate, safer, and corrects the systemic and structural flaws this epidemic is clearly revealing to us.
Times of crisis often set the stage for change; hopefully for the better this time. We are at a crossroad with a unique chance to define a new paradigm of normal. We are being given a rare opportunity to restore critical foundations of our society and to create the safest possible transition into a new normal after COVID-19 is fought or as we learn to live with it. I know, we shall find solace and acceptance in embracing our pain and the lessons that come with it and we shall move on resolutely together as a nation. Today is the future in which we are working on to ensure a good life for us and generations to come. We, Americans, are good people and as such we must define on own our terms the type of society we want and get rid of what we do not want, as this experience should be teaching us all.
I agree with the public health measures implemented to mitigate the impact of the pandemic, such as social distancing, shelter-in place, use of face protection, which are all valid and necessary. However, they are not designed to offer permanent efficacious protection against the virus infection; they are only buying us time to adequately respond from a healthcare service delivery standpoint. We need more and we deserve better!
I am convinced that we Americans are highly resilient people; we have been through many very tough times in the past and this pandemic is challenging us to change the systemic and structural problems we’ve been ignoring or ineffectively pretending to address. Nobody knows what the post COVID-19 world may look like yet. Nonetheless, it is hard for me to believe that we are not going to take this opportunity to fix this nation’s issues that this pandemic has made very evident. I propose we start now to discuss how to move from here and to where and I offer some suggestions:
1. We need to carefully evaluate what changes we need to introduce in the way we interact with others within and outside our families and communities; this may involve imposing new public health and public safety practices, creating opportunities for communities to provide input and participate in decision making, and conducting research focusing on human dynamics in the context of disease transmission and containment.
2. We must engage in creating a new vision of a public health system that protects citizens’ life and is voided of political contamination. A robust science-based public health system capable and prepared to identify and respond to outbreaks before they start to spread and ready to support the response of the healthcare service delivery system. In similar circumstances; the global flu epidemic of 1918 set the stage for the creation of National Health Services in many countries in Europe.
3. We need to create a transition plan to rebuild people’s trust so when we step out of our stay-at-home confinement; we do it trusting that there is a solid evidence-based plan in place to more effectively foresee and halt threats associated with the permanence of the coronavirus among us and any other similar future threats.
4. We need to take advantage of this time we are buying with the current public health mitigation measures to prepare ourselves for the next event, should there be more events like this, including the resurgence of COVID-19 or new outbreaks of novel viruses.
5. In implementing solutions, we ought to be very cautious of not putting forth measures or protocols that can pose any bias, stigma, discrimination or violence against individuals who contract this viral infection with particular attention to most vulnerable populations.
6. Last but not least, I hope that the system fractures this pandemic has exposed spawn a collective dialogue, so we come together to recreate our normalcy incorporating the principles we value when it comes to our individual health and public health safety.