Sunday, July 26, 2020

COVID-19 - Lessons for the Next Pandemic

The first case of COVID-19 in the United States was reported on January 20th.   Of course, this is akin to finding one termite in your garage and thinking that there are no others.  Of course, by January 20th there were an unknown number of infected Americans who were silently and efficiently transmitting the virus to others. 

It’s easy to say now what we all should have done then. 

The rapidity of the explosion of worldwide infections has been staggering and humbling.  Compare the known infections and mortality in America today with the state of affairs on January 20th, only 3 months ago. 

Just prior to posting this, the known number of U.S. fatalities to COVID-19 is 150,000.
For some perspective, our country lost over 58,000 individuals in the Vietnam War, but this horrible tragedy was the result of 8 bloody years, not just several months. 

The current diabolical enemy is a merciless adversary.  Like a terrorist, it scares those who have not been infected.  It makes us hide and hunker down.  It kills enough people to make us all feel vulnerable.  And, it has cratered our economy so deeply that it makes the post 9/11 economic damage seem like a modest downturn.

A deadly and invisible enemy.

But we will get through it. I was proud that it seemed that the country had largely come together to get to the other side.  For the first few months, we listened to our public health experts and sacrificed.  We were willing to participate in something that is so much bigger than ourselves.

But as time went on the public's patience waned.  Businesses demanded to be set free.  Masks became a divisive political issue.  Governors opened up their states with the hope of pulling an inside straight.  Many of them were forced to admit defeat and ordered an economic retreat.  And many Americans simply ignored the public health recommendations and filled up beaches and bars putting all of us at greater risk. 

Perhaps, when the next pandemic descends upon us, and it will, we will all recognize that immediate containment and contact tracing is a better pathway than delay followed by collective mitigation.  Will we have the discipline and trust in our leaders to fall in line?   How many shutdowns can the country and the world endure?

I hope and pray that the current experience has been so frightening and traumatic that we will do the right thing when COVID-22 or COVID-24 attacks.   And hopefully, the world’s scientists are learning now how to better design therapeutics and effective vaccines, which may ultimately be our most potent two-pronged weapons against invisible enemies that do not even exist today.

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