Some behavioral changes in American society as a result of COVID-19 should continue after the current crisis passes, in order to reduce the possibility of spreading many kinds of respiratory diseases in society. Mask wearing is an example. Japan and China regularly used this preventive practice before COVID-19. After getting used to wearing masks during COVID-19, Americans should continue this practice at the onset of cold-like symptoms. We have learned that it is not a big inconvenience to have a mask in a purse or coat pocket and store some at home.
All venues where people gather should have masks available – not necessarily according to the law, but as good commercial practice. Airlines should give passengers who cough or sneeze a mask and require them to wear it. We should be wary of the common excuse, “it’s just allergy” or “I’m past the contagious stage.” We used to treat the common cold as something serious; but we now know that a virus can affect a vulnerable person much more severely than the symptoms of the person spreading the virus may indicate.
Another lesson is the importance of staying away from school or work when we are infected. Staying home when we show symptoms of a transmissible condition is crucial, not just polite behavior. Some may not be able to afford the loss of a day’s wages. The need for paid sick leave for that situation is now clear. Any state that takes this step and forces employers to pay for it risks driving employment to other states or out of the country. The responsibility should therefore be borne at the federal level, and so should the funding. That way, we would all be bearing the costs instead of burdening employers who create job opportunities.
Monetary economy has also been changed by COVID. America spent $ 1.9 trillion on a single piece of legislation, at the beginning of President Biden’s tenure, to mitigate the impact of COVID. President Clinton’s Treasury Secretary Larry Summers described this as three times more than necessary, and he predicted serious inflationary consequences. Today we know he was right. The doctrine is that a light monetary policy may be useful in mitigating a downturn, but printing more money than the economy can absorb will lead to inflation.
America learned in the COVID crisis that the inventive capacity of our economy is truly remarkable. The vaccines developed in Operation Warp Speed by the US pharmaceutical companies Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson were miraculous, especially contrary to predictions that coronavirus was unmanageable and no vaccine could be expected for years, if not decades. The vaccine discoveries were followed by innovations in therapies that reduced the harmful health consequences for those infected – also developed at a pace that defied all cautious predictions. Vaccines and therapies developed in state-dominated economies such as Russia and China proved to be less successful. We let the free market perform and it made it great.
However, it is also true that the government must be a partner with free enterprise. The Warp Speed concept was that the government would pay for costs that pharmaceutical companies could not risk investing in on their own, to build massive production facilities prior to actually having a vaccine. It took courage and faith in the genius of the free market to prepare to produce the vaccines in the quantity we needed before they were discovered. This was a unique achievement by President Trump. The widespread antipathy towards his administration should not cause us to overlook this achievement and to imitate it when we have to do it again.
Susanne Campbell is a retired University of California Berkeley administrator. Tom Campbell is a teacher at Chapman University. They are both members of a new political party being formed in California, the Common Sense Party.