By Don Keelan
In due time, the residents of the world, our country and state will see the end of the COVID-19 pandemic and, hopefully, it will be soon.
When it is over, what will come next will be the blame game, finger-pointing, accusations, and, of course, thousands of lawsuits claiming negligence throughout the pandemic. But for now, let’s set all of this aside and focus on one word, and that is “reliant.”
I believe that most people would agree that prior to November 2019, we were doing what we always have done, and that is relying on governments to keep us safe. It can be the world government (the United Nations), our own government in Washington, the governments of the 50 states, and, where applicable, county governments and local governments.
The fact is that, in the beginning, in the embryonic state of the pandemic, the World Health Organization had no idea what was taking place — not until late January did the WHO become aware that a monstrous contagion was in development. Its gestation period, as it turned out, would come to fruition in just weeks. Accordingly, the fully developed embryo had already arrived in Wuhan, China.
And weeks later, the monster was in northern Italy and Spain. Now it was up to the countries’ leaders to take charge, and in the early stages (in December in China), denial of a problem was the common response. China went so far as to reprimand the doctor, Dr. Ai Fen, who had called out the virus in the fall of 2019. The virus subsequently killed him.
The United States government also was in denial in January, and as late as February there was no cause for alarm — when, in fact, there was every reason to be alarmed and begin preparations for a pending economic and medical disaster.
States also were in denial, as one can see from how shutdowns were so sporadic — each having a different take on social-distancing, closing of schools and businesses, and adopting what became known as the “stay-at-home” mandate.
And not unlike being hit with a sledge hammer, our country’s states, local first responders, hospitals, congregate care facilities, prisons, essential government and businesses were caught with minimum preparedness. Also, there was a major shortage of respiratory and testing equipment, protection masks, gloves, medical gowns and ventilators. Why? Because for years past we were relying on governments to take care of such matters.
I have found it so ironic that a country that has billion-dollar stadiums, billion-dollar naval war ships, and so many other assets had a pittance of respirators, testing equipment, and PPE supplies available for a possible pandemic.
It was not only the federal government — even in Vermont, with so many physical and natural assets, our local hospitals and essential businesses were begging for PPE. Once again, we were relying on others; it was never perceived to be a problem, at least it wasn’t prior to February.
Places that have stood ready to handle the crisis were at the local town and neighborhood level. It was almost instantaneously that neighbors were prepared to help one another. The same was true with food service providers, whether it was the local grocery store, food shelf, meals on wheels, or the local public school staff. No one in a community would go hungry was the rallying cry.
We have to rely on our federal and state governments when it comes to a crisis. However, what we should have recognized and learned from 9/11 and Tropical Storm Irene, is that the first 72-96 hours belongs to us. What this comes down to is that we have to be prepared to go it alone until higher levels of government can take over.
We owe it to ourselves and those we serve to become more self-reliant, more self-sustaining. Governments can only do so much, and the time has surely come for us to recognize this.
Don Keelan writes a bi-weekly column and lives in Arlington, Vermont.