CLEVELAND — It’s almost hard to imagine what life was like before the pandemic, but it has only been a year since COVID-19 completely changed our world.
Pandemic planning 101. Clear, concise, accurate information. How quickly this became an info-demic when government, politics and infectious disease experts clashed with mixed messaging. Those in public health made plans and evolved them as new threats arose, but no one took control from the top down, no one explained basic science from the start and kept consistent messaging. Too quickly conspiracy theorists and myths took hold of social media.
So what did we learn? Planning works to an extent.
DAVE COVELL- Lorain County Health Commissioner
“The problem is at the federal level and at the state level they haven’t really pulled out those plans, at least in some states. Ohio actually did a pretty good job of that they really looked at their H1N1 plan and really looked at our local plans and really tried to mirror that up but unfortunately that didn’t happen nationwide,” Covell said.
DONNA SKODA- Summit County Health Commissioner
“All the planning we did, Lord I can get ice from China if I need it today because we have all these relationships about vendors, but it didn’t do us a damn bit of good. We needed very different things. and I think your comment about that one unified message from the beginning about how do we get ahead of this and then the supports in place we never had enough testing, and now vaccine feels horribly like testing,” Skoda said.
New Ohio Department of Health (ODH) Director Stephanie McCloud took over nine months after the pandemic started, but already understood limitations.
STEPHANIE MCCLOUD- ODH director
“Had the Ohio Department of Health and local health districts been completely financed, staffed, technically resourced for something like a global pandemic, many people would have criticized it as a waste of money,” McCloud said.
But those on the front lines are hoping COVID exposed a more valued need.
TERRY ALLAN- Cuyahoga County Health Commissioner
“If we had resources at the level that we believe is necessary in this country and right now it’s a small price to pay in public health. It’s about five cents of every health related dollar, five cents, a nickel, I think a little more investment would go a long way and you pay now or you pay a helluva lot more later,” Allan said.
There's a very different view on the healthcare front. As hospitals scrambled to prepare for a surge with limited protective gear, a community stepped up.
DR. GILBERT PALMER- MERCY HEALTH CHIEF CLINICAL OFFICER
“Local automotive plants manufacturing masks and helping us with other material and that’s how it worked in the community and if you can imagine that on a larger scale, that’s going to be the key to success in the future,” Dr. Palmer said.
Dr. Palmer also noted how the pandemic pushed competition aside.
“But what came out of the pandemic is what we call regionalization, Mercy Health department, Cleveland Clinic department, University Hospitals could partner with Metro hospital and take care of our communities. There’s got to be more of that on the go forward for sure,” Dr. Palmer said.
What did the pandemic reveal?
- A need for locally sourced medical equipment that doesn’t rely on foreign supply.
- Expanded planning and better funding for public health.
- Better communication resources and databases for contact in emergency situations.
DONNA SKODA- Summit County Health Commissioner
“We’ve struggled to be able to contact special populations, we have to figure out a way to do it,” Skoda said.
STEPHANIE MCCLOUD- ODH DIRECTOR
“Preparing for the future I do think we need to be ready for future issues like this and you learn from the last time, we’ve learned a lot there are things we can put in place going forward,” McCloud said.
But much will depend on how quickly we choose to forget 2020.
TERRY ALLAN- CUYAHOGA COUNTY HEALTH COMMISSIONER
“When it’s over we’ll evaluate what worked and what didn’t but I think ultimately public health is like a utility, public health is like water, like electricity, you know you flip on the switch the light you expect it to go on, you turn on the faucet you expect to have safe water available that’s the way we want people to think about public health,” Allan said.
More from Monica Robins:
- EXCLUSIVE | Finding a COVID-19 vaccine in Ohio: What Cleveland’s hospital CEOs want you to know and what to expect from the months ahead
- EXCLUSIVE I Our greatest challenges in a post-pandemic Ohio: Cleveland’s hospital CEOs see long-lasting problems from COVID-19
- EXCLUSIVE I Decade after the pandemic: Cleveland’s hospital CEOs share their vision for how COVID-19 will impact jobs in healthcare for years to come
- EXCLUSIVE I The good and the bad: Cleveland’s hospital CEOs reveal how healthcare has changed permanently after the pandemic
Editor's Note: The below video aired on February 22, 2021