Disaster Discourse: The Hagerty Blog

COVID-19: Stay Ahead of the Curve and Save Lives

MONDAY, MARCH 23, 2020 AS OF 7:00 PM EST

There are currently over 375,000 confirmed cases worldwide, with more than ten percent of all cases occurring in the United States (US).  With more than 16,000 confirmed cases as of March 23, New York has roughly half of the confirmed cases in the US. The spread of the virus across the US continues to increase, putting increased pressure on healthcare workers and systems and causing shortages of medical supplies in many places. The surging rate of infection in the US highlights the need to sustain ongoing efforts to support states before they become overwhelmed by the outbreak. Further, in addition to the previous emergency declarations, major disaster declarations have been made for New York (DR-4480), Washington (DR-4481), and California (DR-4482), with additional declarations for other states anticipated.

Johns Hopkins 2019-nCoV Map of Global Cases: Source

Applying Lessons Learned from Past Pandemics to COVID-19 Response

Just over 100 years ago, the 1918 influenza pandemic (H1N1),  sometimes referred to as the “Spanish Flu”, led to sickness and death for millions worldwide. The short- and long-term tenets of public health response are as true today as then; those leaders who adjusted to the viral risk and took decisive action saved lives. History speaks to the differences in impact; cities such as St. Louis took aggressive actions, like canceling events, while others like Boston and Philadelphia did not. In communities where parades and other events continued, there was a significant increase in infections and fatalities due to the H1N1 virus. The fallout was not limited to population health, it cascaded to all aspects of the community.

Where We Are Today With COVID-19

All US territories and states have an emergency and/or major disaster declaration due to COVID-19, with the virus confirmed in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., plus three US territories. Earlier this month, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially categorized COVID-19 as a pandemic. While the immediate threats to the population’s health and well-being are more obvious (e.g., fever, cough, severe illness), understanding the extent of the potential impact of COVID-19 on the entire spectrum of government services requires a deeper analysis. Learning the lesson from past pandemics, like the 1918 influenza outbreak, community leaders who want to stay ahead of the curve  should be planning for high rates of absenteeism, with an anticipated workforce reduction based on an illness rate of up to 30 percent (the projection for pandemics). Personnel across sectors may be sick, focused on providing childcare during school closures, or tending to sick family members.

N95 Face Mask: Source

1. Resource Allocation — How will you distribute vaccines or other scarce resources?

We already see impacts to supply chains. For instance, hospitals are running critically low on N95 masks due to the public stockpiling medical supplies and global shortages. With China (the epicenter of COVID-19) supplying half of the world’s masks, among other crucial supplies, we can expect widespread supply shortages to continue.

We still do not fully understand the virus, but the best minds from around the world are working on the problem. Increased prevalence of testing should reduce ambiguity around exposure and make contact tracing more effective. Additionally, the development of targeted treatment options should reduce morbidity and mortality worldwide.

When a vaccine is hopefully developed and approved for the public, likely many months from now, there will be tough decisions to make and actions to take. Prioritization and allocation of limited amounts of the vaccine will be difficult, as well as explaining to community members why certain groups will get vaccinated first, despite extensive community spread.

2. Social Impacts — How can you support the needs of the community?

Beyond the mental distress that a pandemic can create for all members of a community, there are also significant social impacts associated with social distancing. Mainstays of communities have been disrupted; children and adults alike are separated from services and gatherings crucial to both physical and emotional well-being (e.g., meals, recreation, worship). Availability of remote support services for mental and behavioral health in your community, especially for the most vulnerable (e.g., chronically ill, children, pregnant women, older adults), is especially important during this time.

As the virus continues to spread, federal, state, and local authorities are placing striker  regulations on citizens to encourage them to stay inside. In this time the world is coming together through social media platforms, streaming channels, and virtual conversations. In the same way, it is important for leaders to continue to engage their community and stay connected during the outbreak.

3. Ongoing Communication — How will you reach your constituents?

As we learned from the 9/11 terrorist attacks, remaining a constant and reliable source of information will be a vital task for leaders during this time. Focus your messaging on what is known and what can be done, consulting trusted resources published by the CDC and the WHO. Express empathy for what your community is facing and continue to stress the importance of thoughtful behavior and behavior change; with no vaccine yet available for COVID-19, every action we personally take matters. This includes ongoing community education and promotion of handwashing, proper cleaning and disinfection, and respiratory etiquette (i.e., covering your coughs and sneezes correctly).

CDC Guidance on Reducing and Slowing Transmission: Source

While first said almost 100 years ago, Winston Churchill’s famous quote remains relevant in the present as we respond to the current pandemic. He said, “The longer you can look back, the farther you can look forward.” What was as true in 1918 as it is today; stay ahead of the curve and look to what is next.

The Hagerty Team encourages our readers to heed advice of international health organizations, government agencies, and local officials when responding to and protecting against COVID-19. The Hagerty Team will continue to provide information and updates on current events and disasters impacting the nation.


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