Lessons Learned

by Albert B. Kelly, Mayor, City of Bridgeton

As we move into the fat part of summer, it feels good to know that we’re getting back to something more like normal, though we’ll never be the same this side of the pandemic. Given what we’ve been through, it is useful to reflect on what we might learn from this pandemic.

My first take-away is that we have to be more resilient in terms of preparations and our supply chains. Who knew that toilet paper and wet wipes would go first, that the microchips that run our devices would be hard to come by, that ventilators and masks would be at a premium, or that lumber and so many other things would be scarce and expensive? We need our state and national leaders to focus on supply chain and stockpile resilience and plan ahead now.

The next take-away is the sense that this is just a dress rehearsal for how bad things can really get. As tough as this pandemic was and is, it could have been worse. Imagine a virus with a lag time between infection and the onset of symptoms being weeks rather than days and a virus that is far easier to catch through the air (think Delta variant) and from only casual contact and only slightly contaminated surfaces. We would like to think that something like this is a once-in-a-generation occurrence, but I don’t think we have that luxury.

Regardless of the origins of the virus, we live in a small world and despite any country’s best effort, containment was not in the cards. Borders and oceans no longer allow us to put distance between us and an outbreak.

We live in an age when science can destroy us whether intentionally or by accident. We realized this same thing when confronting nuclear weapons. What worked in our favor when it came to nukes were the huge amounts of money involved and the difficulty in building a device. It was something countries did, not lone scientists.

When it comes to viruses, it’s not expensive and one person with a reasonably well-equipped lab could engineer a virus that could escape and overwhelm our immune systems. Then there are the vaccines. We are fortunate that scientists were able to come up with vaccines to combat Covid-19. There is no guarantee that science will be able to come up with a vaccine in response to the next pandemic. Even if science delivers some will refuse, we’re in the mid-30 percent range on vaccinations, but that’s for another day.

My hope is that national and state governments will do more in the way of preparedness—vaccine research, overhauling our Strategic National Stockpile, strengthening supply chains, investing in broadband to allow us to function remotely, to name a few areas.

Beyond that, we would do well to view global warming through the lens of the pandemic. We’ve already seen the “birth pangs” of global warming in the form of incredible rainfall, prolonged heat, severe hurricanes, 100-year floods, and blizzards at times and in places they shouldn’t be.

Yet, like viral outbreaks, the climate change signals are sounding a warning to us to prepare and be ready, but we’re in danger of ignoring the signals that are getting louder about our environment and what we may soon face. That may be the biggest lesson from the pandemic; the question is whether we’ll learn from it.

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Mayoral Musings