As the COVID-19 vaccine rollout ramps up, hopes are high that the end of the pandemic might finally be in sight. Many of us now look towards the future. We look to vacations postponed, major life events put on hold, and more than anything, a return to some semblance of normalcy.
What most of us don’t want to do right now is plan ahead for another potential pandemic.
It’s natural to feel fatigued from the events of this past year. But experts warn that allowing ourselves to go back to the status quo could be a disastrous mistake.
Here’s why now is the time to plan for the next pandemic, and how to make ourselves ready.
COVID-19 and Its Effects Were Predictable and Preventable
A common refrain surrounding the pandemic was that there was little that could have been done to mitigate its effects. Its onset was too sudden to prevent. But the warning signs were there years before this novel virus arrived.
In a 2014 address, President Obama identified that the United States was vulnerable to a potential pandemic. He sought immediate action to bolster the nation’s readiness for that eventuality.
His proposed initiatives failed to find sufficient support in Congress, however. And unfortunately, his appraisal of our preparedness would be proven correct.
But even setting that aside, it’s undeniable that our sluggish response to the outbreak allowed the situation to get far worse than it ever needed to be.
The novel coronavirus was first identified in China in late December of 2019. Community transmission of the virus wasn’t documented in the United States until February of 2020. And it took until March for the virus to spread to all 50 states.
While the situation was not ideal, we had time to act more proactively than we did.
Epidemiologist Don Francis once remarked that the position of confronting a new outbreak is a lot like that of firefighters containing a fire. Early, aggressive action pays off, while slow, passive action leads to massive destruction.
In the case of COVID, the government at all levels failed to act until there virtually no hope of containment, and massive destruction of life and livelihood was the result.
The Next Pandemic Isn’t a Question of “If”, but “When”
That tragedy of our government’s COVID response is all the more reason to take its lessons to heart. Because despite being labeled a “once-in-a-lifetime” pandemic, experts are sounding the alarm that the next pandemic can strike at any time.
There are a few reasons that we can expect the incidence of new diseases to increase.
Urbanization is a factor. The increasing movement of more and more people into urban centers makes it easier for disease to spread. Particularly in developing regions where sanitation is substandard.
Globalization is another. In the past, outbreaks of disease would be largely confined to their regions of origin. But as the Ebola virus outbreak of 2014 demonstrated, even rare diseases can now travel thousands of miles before an infected person starts to manifest symptoms.
But likely the biggest factor is deforestation.
The majority of new diseases originate in animals, wildlife in particular. The patient zero for COVID, for example, is theorized to have been infected after coming in contact with wild bats.
This isn’t a new phenomenon. Increasing rates of deforestation have been linked to increased incidences of new diseases as humans come into contact with animal populations they would normally never encounter.
The more humans interact with wild animal populations, the greater the chance that someone will be exposed to a novel disease and trigger a new pandemic.
With the rate of global deforestation showing no signs of slowing, it’s only a matter of time until the next new disease arrives.
How to Plan Ahead for the Next Outbreak
So we’ve talked at some length about what the government could have done to mitigate this pandemic, and why it’s crucial that they act now before the next outbreak is at our door.
Ideally, they’ll revisit those Obama-era proposals that would have bolstered our pandemic response, increase funding to organizations like the World Health Organization who do a lot of the legwork of identifying new diseases and outbreaks, and put social safety nets in place in the event that the nation needs to shut down again like it did last year.
But we would be ill-advised to take any of those initiatives for granted. In a climate where most of the country just wants to get back to business as usual, expensive programs like those aren’t guaranteed to be popular or politically viable.
So it comes down to us as individuals to prepare ourselves as best as we can.
Here are a few key preparations to make to ensure that you and your family are protected when the next pandemic hits.
Trust the Experts, and Help Others Do the Same
One of the greatest contributing factors to the disastrous COVID response was the flood of misinformation that afflicted the public consciousness from day one.
From conspiracy theories that COVID was somehow a hoax to talking heads turning the act of wearing masks into another front in the culture war, bad information was coming in from all sides.
It’s to the point that over a year later, leaders like Suzanne Clark are still working on convincing everyone eligible to get their vaccines without delay. And the longer it takes to cut through the noise and convince people to get vaccinated, the longer COVID will linger and potentially mutate into dangerous new stains.
So, unfortunately, being prepared to combat misinformation is a responsibility that falls on all of us.
Maintain Emergency Supplies of Essential Items
This is just a good policy for any potential emergency, be it a pandemic, extreme weather, or some other natural disaster. When disaster strikes a mobile hand wash station trailer allows personnel on the scene to wash their hands and help prevent any further spreading of contaminants like bacteria.
You’ll probably recall the mad-dash for supplies that occurred when the lockdowns were announced last year. Faced with the prospect of quarantining at home for an indeterminate length of time, millions of Americans found themselves unprepared.
By and large, essentials like cleaning supplies, toiletries, and paper goods don’t expire, so it’s never a bad idea to keep an emergency supply of them.
Similarly, non-perishable foodstuffs should be on your list. The early stages of the COVID pandemic saw supply lines interrupted in many areas, causing grocers to run out of a lot of staple foods. Should another pandemic hit, it’s reasonable to assume we’ll find ourselves in the same position again.
Build Up Your Rainy Day Fund
After essentials like food and sanitary products, the next biggest concern most Americans had was their finances.
The average worker simply can’t afford to miss a paycheck, a fact which spelled disaster for many who were suddenly unable to work. With minimal support offered by the government, millions of Americans fell behind on their bills.
It’s still unclear what the long-term economic impact of COVID will look like. Even with short-term solutions like rent freezes and a couple of emergency payments, many are still behind on expenses from a year ago.
And again, the spirit of caution would warn that there’s no reason to assume that next time will be much different.
Most financial experts already recommend that you have six months worth of expenses saved for emergencies. So whether that emergency is a layoff or a global pandemic, it’s a good time to start socking away a rainy day fund.
For Business Owners, Draw Up Your Response Plan Now
An aggravating factor that helped COVID spread was the fact that most places of business are not well-suited for a pandemic scenario. So as businesses started to re-open, they were forced to improvise solutions to try and mitigate risks while staying productive.
Hence why there’s no time like the present to start preparing your business now. Things like prioritizing what day-to-day functions need to be carried out, how to accomplish critical tasks with a reduced staff, and putting protocols in place for when a worker gets sick are all concerns you should be looking at.
You might even consider using the annual flu season as a time to practice some of these protocols. Not only will it help to better prepare your business for an emergency, but it will help keep your workers healthy.
An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure
We can’t go back and undo the mistakes that allowed COVID to get as out of hand as it did. But we have a duty to everyone who suffered because of this pandemic to at least learn from our errors.
That’s why we must all do our part to plan ahead now.
By applying the lessons learned to the next pandemic or any other emergency, we’ll be better positioned to mitigate the potential damage. During this event we could only react to events as they happened, making it impossible to get out in front of them. Now is the time to instead be proactive.
In many ways, we’re at a crossroads, and no one can foresee what the future holds. To make sure that you have all the information you need to thrive in the days to come, remember to keep up with all of our latest news and resources.