At the start of 2020 no one knew that SARS-CoV-2 existed. A year later, the virus has spread to almost every country and locality. As of January 2nd 2021, there have been 82,579,768 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 1,818,849 deaths, reported to WHO. Of those more than 19,578,217 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 339,550 deaths occurring in the United States. “It has crashed economies and broken health-care systems, filled hospitals and emptied public spaces. It has separated people from their workplaces and their friends. It has disrupted modern society on a scale that most living people have never witnessed. It appears that everyone in the United States knows someone who has been infected. Like World War II or the 9/11 attacks, this pandemic has already imprinted itself upon the nation’s psyche.” The direct impact of COVID 19 and the measures taken to address the devastation it causes will have unforeseen psychological, political, and economic consequences for years to come. Of course, today we know it didn’t have to be this way. We know that a global pandemic of this scale was inevitable and that the various stakeholders tasked with protecting the public’s health had conducted simulations of “what if?” and had prepared for this exact event for decades.
How did the multiple layers of global, federal, state and local institutions dedicated to public health–and more specifically to identifying, mitigating, and containing such a pandemic–fail so miserably? How did the army of experts who spent decades preparing for exactly this kind of event perform when the virus was first recognized in humans in China and spread globally? How did the US medical system, the most expensive in the world, having prepared for pandemics such as COVID -19 and having been informed about its path early on, function? How did the private sector function facing the challenges posed due to the spread of the disease? How did the media and journalists perform in their multiple tasks of providing reliable scientifically based reliable information, providing a stage for public opinion about policy issues associated with the pandemic, and holding public servants accountable? And how did the citizenry function when confronted with the reality of the growing threat of COVID-19?
The brief introduction goes behind the question of who is to blame for the dismal response. It seeks to provide an overview for a more detailed conversation that will unfold in the weeks to come. The effort, part of the COVID-19 Citizen Commission Version 1.0, recognizes the complex nature and the multiple stakeholders that need to be examined if we are to learn from the pandemic as we move along its path and prepare for the next. Additionally, a deep exploration of the COVID-19 Ecosystem provides an opportunity to better understand our current dysfunctional, diseased body politic and provides citizens with tools to engage more democratically within it.
The examination starts with the media as a stakeholder and assesses how well it met its role informing and facilitating citizen dialogue. We will then trace the response of the global stakeholders, the WHO and China when the pandemic was at its infancy, having caused only a few cases of what later came to be known as COVID-19. We will look at the United States federal, state and local response in the early period, the first few months between January and March, when it became clear to many that we are confronted with a deadly pandemic. What was the response of the medical ecosystem in general, and hospitals in particular, to the warnings and recommendations that were issued by multiple organizations and experts? How has the business community and non-profit sector responded to the pandemic when the devastation became evident and the economic toll began rising along with more and more unemployed? The entire article/ section and the accompanying forum discussion provides a lens, through which the public-citizen will examine the response of the stakeholders and discuss steps for moving forward.