Steven Morrison is a project director and senior vice president for the Center for Strategic and International Studies-CSIS, in Washington, D.C. He is the author of a 2019 study, titled Ending the Cycle of Crisis and Complacency in the U.S. Global Health Security.
I really like policy, and as policy papers go, this one is good. In it, the CSIS takes on the issue of strengthening America’s health security. Led by Morrison, a commission astutely observed that when health crises strike, we grow alarmed and spring into action — but when the danger seems to subside, our urgency turns into complacency. Partnerships stop, investments cease, we turn our attention to other things, and a shaky and false sense of security reappears.
The report, written in 2019, is prescient. It chronicles the near-catastrophic run-ins with severe health security incidents like severe acute respiratory syndrome, Middle East respiratory syndrome, anthrax attacks, outbreaks of Ebola and other nasty pathogens. It predicted that a fast-moving lethal pathogen would devastate the country and the globe soon. As I read through the report, I was struck by the incredible costs in lives, economic loss and physiological devastation wrought by these episodes. I’ve come to appreciate how predictable our current situation was.
When discussing COVID-19, Marty Smith, reporting for the Frontline dispatch, was struck by what researcher Britta Jewels, murmured during an interview: “This is not the Big One.” When asked to elaborate, she said, “It’s only a matter of time before the next pandemic happens.”
She explained that as the global population increased, and as our cities grow in density and size, the threat of another novel, virulent and even more deadly pathogen will increase.
And next one — the next pandemic — could be the big one. The takeaway? We must resist the urge to just pretend as if this will just go away. We have to remain vigilant, and we have to make serious changes. Because there will be another one.
COVID-19 has inflicted devastating losses across this country and our state. We all see and hear the stories of lost loved ones, economic devastation and sheer psychological trauma this pandemic has inflicted. When this happens again, I hope we will have learned enough sober lessons and be determined to break the cycle of crisis and complacency.
One of the lessons I have learned from my vantage point at Meals on Wheels is that Oklahomans are generous. The outpouring of support by the community for Meals on Wheels during the last two months has been incredible. People from all walks of life have banded together to help others. Public and private organizations have partnered with us and other not-for-profit organizations and invested precious resources to protect the lives and the interest of others.
Crises always present dangers and uncertainty. But they always offer opportunities. Meals on Wheels has tried to make the most of these opportunities by expanding our services and continuing to deliver on our mission despite having to repurpose our volunteer corps. We have grown into new areas like Sapulpa and are serving thousands in the underserved communities in north, east and west Tulsa through our community outreaches.
We could not have done any of it without the care, concern and commitment of our many partners — public and private. Thank you.
If COVID-19 has taught me anything, it is that we live in a time of exceptional vulnerability; that the cost of preparedness is small when compared to what we are now bearing, and that we have a long way to go in the fight against this menace. But if history has taught me anything, it is that we are stronger and safer when we work together, and together we will overcome it.
But we overcome by charting a new course, by learning more about our neighbors, by strengthening the social safety net for vulnerable populations, by rebuilding our health care systems and by strengthening our support network for all of our communities.
Calvin A. Moore is CEO and president of Meals on Wheels Of Metro Tulsa and a member of the Tulsa World Community Advisory Board. Opinion pieces by members of the board appear in this space most weeks.