Editorial: COVID-19 was a test. How did we do?
We hope 2021 will end the pandemic, but we cannot go back to the way we were
First in an Opinion series
We hope 2021 will put COVID-19 in our rearview mirrors, leaving this strange, deadly and frightening episode to the history books.
But some aspects of our pandemic experience shouldn't be left behind. The nation's fight against COVID-19 accentuated problems and inequities that have existed for years.
It's hard to focus on long-term fixes while we are still in the throat of this monster epidemic. Yet, doing so has profound long-term benefits and would leave us poised to better weather the next enormous challenge to humanity, whenever and whatever it might be.
As we recover from tremendous loss of life and a stricken world economy, building in new approaches to these problems can help build our resilience.
• Caring for our elderly. How could we have been so slow and ill-equipped to protect the nursing home population that accounts for about 40% of COVID-19 deaths? Even after the initial surge swept through, even when residents were isolated in their rooms and kept apart from families and friends, disease outbreaks continued. Staff members in many cases have been heroic, but some also brought the virus in with them as they worked multiple jobs for low wages with inadequate COVID-19 testing, supplies and training. COVID-19 has exposed the lack of oversight, funding, staffing and transparency. We can't go back to ignoring those deficiencies.
•Educating our kids. Teachers, parents and students have shown remarkable dedication and innovation as remote learning stretched across two school years. Yet, some testing data emerging across the U.S. shows kids losing ground compared to before the spring shutdown. The COVID slide hit some subject matter harder -- one theory is that parents are less equipped to support math learning -- and hit some students harder. Black, Latino, Native American and poor kids lost more ground, as did English learners and students with special needs. Homelessness related to the pandemic has taken a toll. We need to re-examine public education through a new lens and consider some radical ideas for doing school in a way that's the most flexible and truly equitable.
•Improving our health care. Poverty, lack of insurance and high rates of chronic illness doomed some communities and ultimately contributed to COVID-19 spread. Rural areas lacked hospital capacity. Public health was politicized. The failings of our piecemeal system of medicine and insurance have never been in sharper focus. We owe it to families who've lost someone to COVID-19, and to the valiant front-line nurses and doctors, to do better. We cannot keep the status quo.
We hope and expect the U.S. will achieve a respite from COVID-19 in 2021, but that doesn't mean a pandemic, or some crisis like it, won't happen again soon.
We fell short in some areas on this test. We can do better, and COVID-19 has shown us where to start.