Hindsight is 20/20, but it can be useful.
When the novel coronavirus epidemic begins to wane and people can leave their homes without being scolded for possibly killing their grandma, we will need to look back at what should have been done differently.
On a national level, the people we elect to the House of Representatives and the Senate should ask why the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies were so unprepared for a disease outbreak on this scale.
Remember H.G. Wells’ 1897 novel “The War of the Worlds”? Martians sent an invasion force to Earth to kill its inhabitants and take over the world. Our military might could not stop them, but our bacteria and viruses did.
That sounds familiar. In the past 20 years, the United States has built up its military hardware to fight visible enemies anywhere on Earth, but it neglected to build the infrastructure to fight the invisible ones at home.
The COVID-19 outbreak apparently was unintentional this time, but a nation or a terrorist group planning biological warfare undoubtedly has learned much the past month or so.
We’ve spent billions of dollars and thousands of lives in armed conflicts overseas since 9/11 because, we were told, it’s better to fight them over there than at home. Right now we have a fight at home, and the military might we’ve invested in so heavily has been of minimal help.
One problem with large-scale events such as the present pandemic is that so much information floats around the internet. A person has to be very careful which sources to trust. Errors and exaggerations become talking points, and once a talking point is adopted, it’s hard to change people’s minds with truth.
At present, the best we can do is trust our elected officials to do what needs to be done but reserve the right to question whether their actions are justified or went far enough. Later, a thorough and nonpartisan investigation can explain how someone making bat soup in China caught this nation so unprepared for an outbreak of a highly contagious disease. It can also advise whether the measures taken were warranted.
The problem is that in a presidential election year, expecting a nonpartisan inquiry could be asking too much, but it has to be attempted.
At the local level, we were caught unprepared. No one expected something of this magnitude. If they did, they didn’t prepare for it.
Here in the Tri-State, in West Virginia and in Appalachia in general, we’ve had our own outbreak of contagious diseases to deal with the past few years. HIV, hepatitis, drug overdoses and other fallout from drug abuse have been our problem. Fending them off has required different strategies than what COVID-19 does.
Local authorities follow the lead of national and state agencies. We all have our thoughts and suspicions about how they have performed, but fairness to them and responsibility to ourselves require us to wait until more facts are in before we pass final judgment.
In some cases, we can’t wait. We will hand down our first judgments when primary elections are held this spring.
In the long term, we must ask what we’re willing to give up to pay for what we need to do to prevent another outbreak like this one. And we’ll need to ask the hardest question of them all: What other disease threats are out there that we haven’t imagined yet?
As with most things in life and in governance, it won’t be simple or easy, but it must be done.