Emerging from our initial struggle with COVID-19, it is clear that the United States was not prepared for a major health crisis. There was no emergency plan to adequately handle the medical, economic, or food distribution problems that challenged the nation. Moving forward, many issues need to be addressed, including how to prevent future pandemics and how to deal with the economic fall out of this crisis. However, now we must immediately direct our efforts to a monumental topic that we anticipate facing in the coming months – a second wave.
The federal government’s lack of preparation put the states at a terrible disadvantage. New York, like other states, did not have access to testing or necessary equipment. Healthcare systems were overwhelmed, and the scarcity of personal protective equipment increased the dangers of caring for those infected. When healthcare workers are not supported, the virus wins.
- As of April 20th, there were over 9,000 reported cases of COVID-19 among health care professionals nationwide, causing a dangerous depletion in an essential workforce. With doctors, nurses, and EMTs sick, the treatment capacity of our hospitals had been reduced.
- Scarcity of equipment for medical personnel – protective gowns and masks (PPE) – increase the dangers of caring for those critically ill.
- Absence of a “medically safe” plan which would enable people to work at home and/or at their job sites.
- Insufficient dollars devoted to medical research endeavors.
- Lack of support for new and emerging issues that have resulted from social distancing, isolation, and quarantine.
- Failure to respond quickly by federal government health departments and agencies.
- Challenged front line local leaders have not received the appropriate financial and technical support necessary to safeguard their constituents.
- Lack of global cooperation and communication.
- Unavailability and lack of orientation to smartphones and tablets make telemedicine difficult for many of the most vulnerable.
- Insufficient funds for non-profit organizations that provide food, home healthcare, housing, childcare, after school services, etc.
- Lack of medical preparedness – vaccines, treatments, inaccurate comments by officials on the severity of the virus to the general public, etc.
In the case of a second wave, if immediate measures are not taken, the public will be forced to return to quarantine measures, which were enforced during the first wave without alternative plans available.
As we sort out and analyze the problems that confront us, we recognize that each state has differing needs and profiles. Population density, commuter work patterns, a large elderly population, and recreational and social habits make New York unique to other populations across the country. It would benefit New Yorkers to demand that Washington allocate an increase in federal funding based on New York’s share of federal taxes paid and to develop comprehensive plans to protect its residents against another crisis.
Starting immediately, we must;
- Identify and develop an “army” of reservists and first responders to assist in a second wave. This new civilian workforce should include doctors, nurses, specialists who are not currently practicing, and individuals who are certified or can be certified in skills such as CPR, AED, EMT, basic and advanced life support, and adult first aid. These individuals will provide relief for medical personnel who have become exhausted and sick. When we are all prepared to work together, great things can happen.
- Establish a medical reservist database.
- Use this situation as an opportunity to establish a “Think Tank” comprised of experts to explore the expanded use of technology for businesses and individuals. Investigate the availability of technology for all economic levels of society. If there is a second wave, we must make sure no one gets left behind.
- Develop a “safe” plan to keep businesses, transportation, and government entities operational using social distancing, rotating shifts, teleconferencing, and distance learning.
- Establish community and statewide stockpiles of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and cleaning supplies for our medical institutions, first responders, and the public-at-large. This equipment should also be made available to trade workers, enabling this group to continue working in both commercial and residential projects.
- Prepare local factories and manufacturing centers to shift from their regular production lines to creating ventilators, PPE, hand sanitizers, and basic supplies. This will ensure jobs and paychecks for many in the manufacturing industry.
- Develop community-wide stockpiles of nonperishable and emergency dehydrated foods that will ensure that shelves never go empty. Local governments can collaborate with grocery stores and restaurants, designating them as fresh food distribution centers, averting food shortages. In order to facilitate shopping, we should expand telephone ordering from supermarkets to assist those not capable of using online services. We will simultaneously be supporting local businesses, guaranteeing a supply of food, and preventing wasteful destruction of unused food.
- Utilize the Partnership for Healthy Cities COVID-19 Response Center – a new online platform for mayors, public officials, and public health practitioners. The Center provides up-to-date scientific information through webinars, technical materials, and other assets. It is organized into areas of technical assistance: surveillance, epidemiology, communication, public health social measures, and legal policy guidance.
- Set up a statewide comprehensive “Public Health Care System” comprised of hospitals, health facilities, nursing homes, and medical schools that can develop and implement plans for any healthcare crisis.
- Garner support from private and public sectors for research and testing/tracing efforts that will combat any future epidemic. We must commit our energies to develop faster, accurate detection, diagnoses, prevention, and treatment of contagious diseases.
- Create a central database of screenings and tracings of disease occurrences in which results can be stored and analyzed before they reach epidemic proportions.
- Prepare now to increase the capacity to respond to non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, chronic lung disease, cancer, etc. which will not interfere with the treatment of those affected by a contagious disease.
- Encourage participation in American Red Cross classes that train people in the skills described above. In addition, create training programs at community centers and on academic campuses. EMTs and Paramedics can be further trained at local hospitals and in firehouses across the community. Developing and allocating funding is essential to support those who cannot afford to pay for these courses.
- Enlist New York and Long Island private foundations and corporations to make funding available for training programs and for individuals needing scholarships to take medical courses.
- Provide the elderly and at-risk populations, who do not have smartphones or tablets, with devices and training at deep discounts to make telemedicine more accessible. This will allow more individuals to connect with medical professionals safely and will also mitigate the effects of social isolation and medical emergencies.
While there may be a considerable cost for these solutions, the spending of funds is small compared to the number of deaths, mental anguish, and severe economic losses the country has sustained. If we had spent less than 5% of the defense budget for preparedness and testing, we could have considerably lessened the occurrence of the disease and the loss of life.
We have been ushered into a new era where Democrat and Republican designations hold less significance. With experts predicting a possible second wave, we must accept the urgency of planning NOW and refuse to politicize issues that will affect everyone throughout our state and our nation.