People wearing masks in downtown Los Angeles at Grand Central Market. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)
The Literacy Guild

Opinion: Lessons from COVID-19 for the next pandemic

Humanity has faced countless illnesses ever since we have appeared on the face of the earth. From the bubonic plague to smallpox to cholera, we have been faced with illnesses time and time again, and mostly, we have been underprepared. 

Judging from previous reactions to pandemics and the research presented in the book “Exploring Lessons Learned from a Century of Outbreaks,” it seems that we are still underprepared for the current novel coronavirus pandemic. 

Many of the important strategies for stopping a pandemic include increased trust between government and individuals, implementation of non-pharmaceutical tactics and the development and expedient administration of vaccines, according to “Century of Outbreaks.” However, currently, the United States is not prepared to fully utilize any of these strategies. 

In the United States, people do not always fully trust the government. If the civilians do not listen out of distrust, then the pandemic will take longer to stop. 

According to “Century of Outbreaks,” community engagement is an important aspect of decreasing panic and chaos during a crisis by utilizing prepared efforts, such as vaccines, and assisting public health officials.

Average citizens can help the leaders of a country with preparedness, but we need to be informed first, which she says is a problem because a lot of communities in the U.S. do not trust the government. 

For example, many citizens do not trust our president or state representative because their views are different from that of the government official. This is prominent in new networks especially, where bias is rife, and a certain sentence or action has different meanings according to different sources. 

Specifically, there is confusion over whether or not we should wear masks. For example, the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend the use of masks, but a medical news platform called Medical Xpress mentioned masks and gloves are ineffective against coronavirus, and may even spread infections faster.

As different websites offer different ideas on the subject of masks, people can be confused about what they should do, especially if they do not trust the sites from the government. It is clear that without the trust of the government, or just authority figures in general, pandemics will take much longer to stop, and panic will continue. 

When people trust the government, then non-pharmaceutical tactics can be effectively implemented. Such tactics are not medical procedures but can slow the spread of a virus.  

Wearing face masks is one of those tactics, and other tactics include social distancing, washing hands, canceling large events and avoiding touching the eyes and mouth, according to “Century of Outbreaks.” 

When it comes to non-pharmaceutical tactics, the United States has done fairly well, but other countries have done better.

According to the Pew Research Center, around 65% of adults in the U.S. wear masks when they go to stores, and 4% don’t go there at all. Drew Altman, President and CEO of the Kaiser Family Foundation, found that 92% of people in the U.S. practiced social distancing.

This is a remarkable number, but as only 60% of people actually stocked up for a long-term stay in their home, people have to go out. Compared to Japan, where only 5% of people were reported by Bloomberg to never wear masks, the U.S. is not as prepared. 

On the whole, the U.S. has done an adequate job on non-pharmaceutical tactics, but there is still room for improvement. However, mere pharmaceutical practices are not enough, as there also needs to be vaccines in order to stop or prevent the pandemic. 

Vaccines need to be developed and administered with speed. Without a vaccine, the disease spreads extremely quickly. 

According to “Centuries of Outbreaks,” Jacqueline Katz, deputy director of the Influenza Division of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, explained a vaccine is “most effective in preventing influenza-related complications.” However, the development and delivery of vaccines are challenging, since they need to be available in a timely manner to control the illness.

Vaccines are clearly the best solution for a pandemic, but developing vaccines fast enough is a challenge. They are considered to be more of a long term response rather than a short term one. 

In the end, what will stop the spread of the virus is a vaccine, not social distancing, which only slows the spread. Mayo Clinic reports that although there is no vaccine for the novel coronavirus yet, scientists in the US and around the world are developing them right now. 

Vaccines are crucial to stopping a pandemic, but it is hard to develop them in a safe and timely manner, as well as testing and administering the vaccine. Without a vaccine, the U.S. and the rest of the world are still being threatened by this virus. 

Currently, the U.S. is going through a major, life-changing medical crisis, and it is important to stay safe and prepared. 

While the United States has mostly done a good job of spreading awareness and taking some important steps towards stopping the pandemic, distrust of the government, lack of full use of non-pharmaceutical tactics and the absence of a working vaccine at this moment still leaves us vulnerable to the pandemic. 

People will be able to defeat COVID-19, the U.S. will survive through the pandemic. However, our current failures and the high price we are paying for that failure should spur us to prepare for the next one.