To mash up famous quotes from two presidents, “The only thing we have to fear is someone saying ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help!’”. The government’s response to the pandemic should be the perfect example of this mashup quote. The reason why the American people have had to take such drastic measures to protect themselves and protect each other from the spreading COVID-19 virus is because the government dropped the ball in their preparations for this pandemic. The government should have had a plan in place and the supplies necessary to easily handle a pandemic that requires up to a million hospitalizations. If they do have this plan, they certainly didn’t implement it here. If they don’t, then the government and the people responsible for ensuring the safety and the public health of the American people are derelict in their duty.
The first thing that the government should have done to prepare was stockpiled 10 times as many personal protective equipment items for medical professionals than the number of hospitalizations projected. This includes face masks, gloves, face shields, goggles, anything that is considered standard medical PPE. Protecting our medical personnel and reducing their risk of contracting any illness during a pandemic is extremely important, as we are finding out now. The doctors, nurses, nursing assistants, lab workers, phlebotomists, and anybody else that works in the healthcare industry are the frontline soldiers who are fighting this battle. The fewer numbers of those people that we have available to fight this battle, the worse the results are going to be for the general public.
The next thing that needs to be considered in preparation for the next pandemic is the development of an emergency action plan to get more of these “frontline soldiers” on the battlefield. This could include everything from graduating nursing classes early to cross-training medical personnel that are specialized in other areas of medicine to get down into the trenches and help with the fight. If we think about these strategies when we’re not going through a pandemic and they’re needed urgently, we can come up with creative ideas that will be able to be implemented quickly and efficiently as and when the need arises.
As a country, we need to develop an emergency contingency plan for increasing the availability of hospital bed space during a demand spike such as a pandemic. At the beginning of this pandemic response by the U.S. government, it became necessary to encourage people to stay at home and to not go out because they wanted to do what was called “flattening the curve”. They told us that flattening the curve would reduce the number of transmissions, and the number of deaths. While reducing the number of deaths certainly is possible by flattening the curve, reducing the number of transmissions was not the goal of that strategy. Flattening the curve was extending the time frame that the number of infections went up, therefore not overwhelming the public health care system all at once. Having a strategy to flatten the curve and spike capacity of the public health care system would have been a better response to the current pandemic. Rationing demand rarely ever works. Especially when that demand is created by a virus that spreads quickly through the air and causes the need for hospitalization. One suggestion here would be contracting with the cruise ship companies who are currently dealing with an idle inventory of ships to be used as makeshift hospitals. The same thing could be done with idle hotels in areas where demand far outweighs capacity.
Then we must address the problem of testing supplies. Many tests for different viruses and bacteria require similar testing supplies. While the chemicals that react to them might be different, the swabs, syringes, needles, and vials that hold the sample collected are all similar. Why aren’t we stockpiling those testing supplies at levels that would be effective? That way when the next pandemic strikes (and that is when not if), we will have the testing supplies needed to quickly ramp up testing. That way we are not again caught in a situation where there is just no testing available in the United States until too late in the game. Also, there needs to be a plan that quickly ramps up that testing during the next pandemic. Even if it means having the CDC be an oversight agency instead of a management agency. One of the reasons why there were just no tests available in the United States when the novel coronavirus strucked is that the CDC wanted control over the testing protocol. In an emergency, you can’t do that. You’ve got to get as much testing as possible out on the market as quickly as possible. That’s why having a rule in place whereby testing labs are required to report their overall testing numbers to the CDC but still allowed to conduct the testing would be effective.
Getting government out of the way of the American people, and having a plan in place that the American people can execute quickly and efficiently will help America weather the storm of the next pandemic without panic, fear, or compromising either our liberties or our safety. If the government fails to plan for the next pandemic (or even start the planning process), it is our responsibility as the American public to hold our elected officials accountable for being derelict in their duties. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Democrat, a Republican, or an Independent; the next pandemic doesn’t care about your politics. It doesn’t care about who’s in office. That’s why we need to work together to ensure we’re ready for the next battle.