It’s been two years since Los Angeles County reported the first COVID 19-related death. Since the unsettling spring month of 2020, more than 31,000 lives have been lost while countless residents continue to experience major economic, social and mental challenges.
As the coronavirus pandemic enters the third year, epidemiologist and infectious disease researcher Dr. Robert Kim-Farley is looking back on the public health lessons and how local and state governments can better prepare for future health crises.
One of the biggest takeaways is public health messaging.
“I'm not sure we all did as well as we could have, in terms of preparing the public for the fact that guidance is going to change over time as we learn more about the virus, and that this guideline may change if the virus itself changes,” says Kim-Farley, who is also a professor at UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.
To prevent or mitigate future public health threats, Kim-Farley says everyone in the community also needs to unify and rally together behind a common enemy. It wasn’t the case this time around.
“Unfortunately, it degenerated,” Kim-Farley says. “We have divides over masking and the very things that we need to be unified behind and being able to protect ourselves, loved ones, friends and family around us.”
The epidemiologist adds that we could’ve better prepared medical staff with the necessary equipment to fight the pandemic, such as ventilators and personal protective gear (PPE). He says that equipment and staffing storages still need to be addressed and better funded.
California was strategically stockpiling medical equipment and funneled about $6 million a year to maintain it, but budgeting for those items began to dwindle, especially during the financial crisis in 2008. The state ended up giving it away or selling it off.
“By the time we ended up with COVID-19, the strategic stockpile was no longer as robust in terms of available PPE,” he says. “We had shortages…hopefully, we will continue to understand that preparedness requires proper strategic stockpiles at national and state levels, so that we can deploy them when they are needed. We can't wait and try to build up supply when you have a crisis at hand.”