National Policy
July 12, 2022

A Few Brief Takeaways from the Coronavirus Pandemic

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A lot has changed since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March of 2020, and now, it is safe to say that the worst is behind us. After over 30 million cases and half a million deaths, life is returning to how it once was in the United States. That is not the case in all countries, and as always, it is important to recognize the privilege that comes with being American. 

This pandemic will surely go down in history as an unprecedented event that drove massive change. With that in mind, future historians and ordinary people alike will derive lessons from what happened — lessons that will hopefully guide the United States into a new era. These lessons include:

Never Depend On American Selflessness

For better or for worse, the United States has one of the most individualistic cultures in the world. It would seem ineffective, then, to launch a public health campaign encouraging selflessness and community, but that was exactly what American officials did. 

“We’re all in this together!” You have probably heard it a million times, not only from Dr. Fauci but from others closer to you, such as teachers and family members. The mantra is not wrong. Like it or not, COVID-19 is a contagious disease, and the actions of others can directly impact our personal health. But there are other true statements about COVID-19 which should have been given more weight in the discourse. For example, many young people were under the impression that in all likelihood, they would not have noticeable symptoms from the disease. In reality, contracting COVID-19 at any age could result in many long-term adverse health effects, many of which are still unknown. Perhaps a more effective public health strategy would be to stress how unfortunate a diagnosis would be for anyone. 

Politicization Can Be Deadly

Two years ago, if someone had told me that the presence of a piece of cloth around the face could correlate with one’s political views, I would have been perplexed. To be clear, many conservatives wore masks, and there were likely some liberals who did not, but it is undeniable that the issue of masking became needlessly political. In fact, President Trump even insulted his opponent Joe Biden in a debate by saying Biden wore “the biggest mask I’ve ever seen.”

Vaccines are a bit different, as they have always had a political nature. That nature became especially apparent in America when a poll revealed that 45% of Republicans did not intend to receive the coronavirus vaccine. This was a vaccine backed by years of research and proven to be extraordinarily effective. The 95% effectiveness of the mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) had never been seen before. Now, with the vaccine having been out for over six months, there is even more information proving that it is effective. In the month of May, only 0.8% of people who died from coronavirus were fully vaccinated. 

The politicization of public health measures has been deadly. Every day, people are dying of coronavirus who could have recovered had they been vaccinated. Earlier in the pandemic, before the vaccine existed, spread could have been slowed if people did not see going unmasked as a political statement. Politicians thrive off politicization — any opportunity to disagree with someone on the other side of the aisle is worth taking. But politicization can be devastating to everyday citizens, and it is important to be able to identify when it is happening needlessly. 

There is No Such Thing as Zero Risk

Every action we take comes with some degree of risk. Driving to work instead of biking, for example, may increase our risk of bodily injury, but many decide it is worth it for the sake of arriving on time. To fully minimize risk, one would need to stay at home in complete isolation for the entirety of their life, which would be an impossible feat. 

When weighing risk, at least two distinct — and often conflicting — interests must be considered. This past school year, administrators had to balance the interest of keeping students safe with the interest of promoting maximal learning. However, many across the country considered the former their primary interest, to the point where quality of education suffered tremendously. (For more details, see my in-depth article on school reopenings published on the Institute for Youth in Policy website in the fall of 2020). 

In general, people need to do a better job of considering all present interests in a situation, not just one. The science conclusively made clear that students could safely return to school with minimal spread, but all administrators could focus on was the fact that there would be spread, even the slightest amount. But there is no such thing as zero risk, and trying to attain it is a lost cause.