Three Big Lessons Learned During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Amanda Luzzader

What lessons were learned while we were all locked indoors, avoiding supermarkets and movie theaters, holding online meetings, and binge-watching premium cable?

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared that the transmission and reach of COVID-19 had reached a pandemic stage, which is characterized by the rapid spread of a disease among unimmunized and otherwise vulnerable populations, accompanied by high numbers of fatalities and infections along with other serious effects, such as overburdened medical personnel and resources.

A little more than two years later, COVID-19 is now said to be entering an endemic stage, which is characterized by widespread presence of a disease which is largely contained by immunization and immunity and resulting in fewer fatalities and new infections. Around the globe, the number of deaths from COVID-19 and new cases are dropping, hospitals and medical workers are less burdened, and there is an increasingly lower risk of new COVID-19 variants and outbreaks.

While many experts warn that more pandemics will likely occur in the years to come, and there is still a possibility of a resurgence of the COVID-19 virus, the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic seems to be behind us.

Sadly, the general consensus is that the world was not fully prepared for this pandemic and that we paid dearly for it in terms of lives lost and also in monetary costs. A new report by the World Health Organization suggests that as many as 14.9 million deaths may be associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. The economic impact of the pandemic is likely in the trillions of dollars.

Even the most dire evaluations of the impacts of COVID-19 pandemic pale in comparison to, for example, the influenza pandemic of 1918, during which an estimated 50 million perished. Clearly, however, the world should be and can be better prepared for the next pandemic.

So, what lessons were learned while we were all locked indoors, avoiding supermarkets and movie theaters, holding online meetings, and binge-watching premium cable?

1. Pandemics affect all of society and in many unexpected ways.According to management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, the first lesson of the COVID-19 pandemic is that infectious diseases affect the whole of society, but access to health care is not equitably distributed. An article published on McKinsey & Company’s corporate blog site suggests that “when we look back on COVID-19 in the future, the direct health impact may not be what we remember most. Indirect effects on health, as a result of delayed routine and preventive care, overstressed healthcare systems, and the increased mental-health burden, may eventually seem more significant.” The pandemic exposed children, those with low incomes, those with pre-existing health conditions, the elderly, and populations from emerging nations to much greater risk. In other words, COVID-19 taught the world how inadequate and inequitable our worldwide healthcare system is.2. Common-sense precautions really hamper the spread of transmissible diseases (if we trust them).Face masks, social distancing, hand washing, and staying home were already known to prevent the spread of transmissible diseases, but re-learning it is listed as an important COVID-19 lesson listed by Yale Medicine’s news site. After the outbreak of SARS in early 2003, mask-wearing became very common among countries in Asia. And while there were many who rejected mask-wearing and other measures during the COVID-19 pandemic, it was nevertheless shown to be an effective strategy to prevent the transmission of virus-laden droplets. Frequent hand-washing, social distancing, and staying home when feeling ill were also shown to slow the spread of the virus. These lessons are valuable and could be effective precautions during future pandemics, but COVID-19 also provided a useful (though costly) reminder that these measures can also help with everything from the ordinary cold to more serious illnesses, such as the flu. However, as mentioned by McKinsey & Company in their post-COVID-19 review, trust plays a huge role in the incorporation of common-sense measures. Mistrust of government agencies led to widespread rejection of very simple safety measures and even anti-mask and anti-vaccination movements.

3. We need to get serious about mental health, especially when it’s associated with physical health.The anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems associated with COVID-19 have been referred to as a “second pandemic.” Early on in the pandemic, it became clear that extremes in isolation, uncertainty, and loss were taking a heavy toll on people even if they didn’t contract the virus itself. The Centers for Disease Control recently reported findings that show the percentage of adults who reported symptoms of anxiety and depression within the past 7-day period increased from 36.4 to 41.5 percent from August 2020 to February 2021. Experts now agree that during serious illnesses, especially those which are life-threatening and/or reach global pandemic status, mental health should be treated side by side with the physical infection or disease.

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