By Michael Balboni
Unwinding the pandemic will take years of planning
The pandemic has challenged the way many of us look at life.
Updated February 7, 2022 6:00 AM
We should start thinking about how we unwind the pandemic. Like a bad traffic accident that takes minutes to close a road but hours to reopen, the pandemic hit quickly but it will take years to bring back our economy, health care, and society.
The pandemic has challenged the way many of us look at life. We should not rush back to pre-pandemic expectations around things like job performance, academic evaluations, and social interactions. The reality is that some individuals will never feel comfortable without a mask. Some of our neighbors will never believe recommendations that come from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention because they have lost faith in our public health institutions. Others will never accept a five-day workweek.
Part of the pandemic’s devastation is its randomness in affecting different people differently. Over the years, I have worked with governments and companies to design tabletop exercises to model the impact of a pandemic. I would ask certain leaders to step out and let the decision-making process proceed with the unexpected absence of someone in the chain of command. The goal was to build organizational resiliency through dealing with the unknown impacts of widespread disease. The solution was to deal with a response plan that suddenly had holes in it and to adjust to unexpected complications.
The pandemic has impacted different communities disproportionately. How can society assure them they will not suffer the same fate from the next global disease?
Michael Balboni is a former New York State senator and deputy secretary for public safety.
Many of the impacts are generational because they affected children. In the short term, children will have to reintegrate into society after being shut in and not being in school. Long term, children will need to recover from the loss of a parent, guardian, or caregiver.
Our workforce has changed as well. From the “Great Resignation” and the federal stimulus program that allowed workers to stay home, to telecommuting and the hybrid workweek, the office of 2022 will look nothing like it did in 2019.
These changes should be studied, anticipated, and recognized for what they are. We should not assume that all of us will be ready to get back to normal because the definition of normal is changing. The next steps should be to re-examine how health care is provided in our country, including concerns ranging from underserved communities to the impact of long-haul COVID to issues with the expansion of medical technologies.
We need to recognize some early estimates that as much as half of our workforce will remain remote. What will this do to small businesses, mass transportation systems, and sales tax receipts? Can we adjust our tax structure to recognize this new reality and institutionalize the need for worker flexibility? What to do with all of the commercial properties that will feel the brunt of the worker-less real estate economy? One idea might be to convert commercial properties to residential properties. Government should explore easing the conversion process to facilitate this transition, without leaving out housing the homeless and individuals with mental health needs.
As we move into this post-pandemic world, we must recognize that for some people, mask mandates provide a sense of security, for others a frustrating restriction. While the revocation of such mandates will likely reintroduce some level of fear, we should consider whether fear alone is sufficient to dictate our future but acknowledge it in planning for the new reality.