BERNARD COLUMN: Pandemic X- the next time

Published 8:30 am Thursday, August 12, 2021

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By Jack Bernard
Bernard is a retired corporate executive

Troup County has been hit hard by the pandemic, which is peaking again. All the more reason to begin to think now about how we deal with future outbreaks which could be even worse.

As opposed to several decades ago (or even several years ago), we are in an ever increasingly connected world. And that means the chances of having another breakout variant are growing substantially higher every year.

I have been on two County Boards of Health (in Georgia), one near Troup (Fayette). The physicians who were the District Directors of each (one was located in Troup) told their boards that it was not a question of “if” there would be a national pandemic, but “when.” And both times, they made the statement well before anyone had ever heard of Covid-19. And they were both correct.

In order to prepare for the next outbreak, we must do several things. First, we need to analyze what went wrong (as well as right) in our national and state responses to Covid-19. Second, we need experienced healthcare professionals to draw up a national strategic plan to prepare us to respond to the next pandemic. Third, we must get our political leaders to pre-approve the plan on a bi-partisan basis, as well as pre-commit to providing adequate funding to fully implement it.

To determine what we did correctly and incorrectly, we should start by looking at which nations did the best job of handling various aspects of the pandemic. There are a number of difficulties in accomplishing this task, starting with the raw data. Many poor nations don’t have the capacity to collect accurate information. In others, the number of deaths and so on that are shown are much lower than reality due to internal political pressure from authoritarian regimes (i.e., China).

In theory at least, a bi-partisan commission should be established to look at the entire topic of what was done wrong and right (including vaccine development) in 2020 and 2021. In practice, this may be infeasible due to politics.

However, we must move on from the political aspects and be prepared as a nation for the next crisis. The way to accomplish that goal is for the President to assign either the CDC or a presidential task force with coming up with a highly comprehensive strategic plan to address the next pandemic, based on science. Plus, have them draft very detailed, pragmatic action plans to implement the broader strategies enumerated in the strategic plan. This strategic plan should be a living document, modified as new information comes forth.

Lastly, this document should be brought before Congress for its review and approval. Again, this must be done now versus awaiting the next crisis.