4 lessons the US learned from the COVID-19 pandemic

The long-term lessons America learns from the coronavirus pandemic will spell life or death.

MICHAEL DOWLING: My fear is that this dissipates, disappears, or quasi-disappears after a vaccine is put in place, and then people relax and say, "Woo, this is wonderful. We can kind of go back to normal." But we all know that there is no such thing as going back to the old normal. There is a new normal now. We had over 17,000 patients in our hospitals. We had over 3,500 in our hospitals on a daily basis. There are lessons to be learned by systems like ours based upon our experience. But we know what these lessons are, and we're working on them.

There's a larger issue though, and that is what are the lessons we learned as a country, now? Well, one is that we were completely unprepared. We were slow to react. We didn't have the testing capability to test to find out whether or not people had it or didn't have it. We didn't have the supply chain. One lesson, as a result, is that we have to have domestic manufacturing of supplies. We should not have to be going around the world searching for what country can give us gloves and masks or shields. We should have that automatically being able to be developed here in the United States, so you're not completely reliant on a foreign country, especially the foreign country that got dramatically disrupted itself.

The lesson about cooperation: You can't do this in isolation. You have to work with others to make sure that we work together to prepare for the future.

The other lesson here is that, you know, we have to make sure that we give leadership roles to our public health experts. This is a public health issue. So, if we stand back from it, and you sit down, we know we have to invest and should be investing in the CDC more. We should be dramatically updating our stockpiles. We should be developing domestic production capability. And we should be working in tandem with other countries to make sure that we are prepared in the future. And we have to be forgetting those things that don't work anymore. And then, creating what the future should look like. How should we look like a decade from now? How should we look like five years from now?

Let's imagine we have a humongous pandemic that's four times worse than this one. What do we do? You don't want to be sitting there when that happens and saying, "Oh my God, we should've prepared from the last one." Now is the time to ask that question and respond.

  • As the US commences its early stages of COVID-19 vaccinations, Michael Dowling, president and CEO of Northwell Health, argues that now is not the time to relax. "There are lessons to be learned by systems like ours based upon our experience," says Dowling, adding that "we know what these lessons are, and we're working on them."
  • The four major takeaways that Dowling has identified are that the United States was unprepared and slow to react, that we need a domestic supply chain so that we aren't relying on other countries, that there needs to be more domestic and international cooperation, and that leadership roles in public health must be filled by public health experts.
  • If and when another pandemic hits (in the hopefully distant future), the country—and by extension the world—will be in a much better place to deal with it.
Learn more about Northwell's pandemic response here.

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