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We must be prepared if COVID-19 returns or we face another pandemic

We must be prepared if COVID-19 returns or we face another pandemic

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We have lost far too many people to the COVID-19 pandemic, and it is far from over. We have sad farewell to more than 50,000 Americans to the novel coronavirus and experts believe that there are countless other deaths that have gone unreported or weren't recognized as caused by the virus.

Many of those we lost spent their last hours and days separated from their loved ones and friends have not been able to attend a funeral to say goodbye.

In addition to those who died from the coronavirus, some 900,000 Americans has confirmed cases of the disease, many of them spending days and weeks in the hospital struggling to breathe. Some people, though, may have had the disease and never known it.

What has made the coronavirus so bad, in part, has been the world's lack of preparation for a pandemic. That is perhaps natural since it has been so long since we have had to deal with a pandemic on this scale. One has to look back to the 1918 flu epidemic for similar comparison. In that pandemic, an estimated 500 million people worldwide had the flu, and 50 million died. So far, the COVID-19 has infected 2.7 million people around the globe, with more than 191,000 succumbing to the illness.

America was supposed to have stockpiles of machines, personal protection equipment and other things needed to see us through such times. When they were needed, though, they weren't there or didn't work.

We were horrified by the desperate pleas from our front-line doctors and nurses and other medical workers for simple things such as masks and gloves and gowns they needed to protect themselves (and their patients) from the coronavirus. In some especially hard-hit hospitals, medical staff were forced to reuse masks and gowns again and again and again. It was horrible. People were asked to donate whatever masks they had at home. Some doctors and nurses had to use barber bibs in place of gowns and ski goggles instead of face shields.

And then there were the ventilators so many of the coronavirus patients needed. Governors were pleading for them, as if they could be provided overnight. One thing saved doctors from having to decided who was put on a life-sustaining ventilator and who had to struggle -- and likely die -- without it: the willingness of so many Americans to shelter at home, keeping themselves from catching the virus or possibly spreading it to others.

Some people scoffed at the idea of staying home for days and weeks on end, but then it became a reality. Many businesses encouraged their employees to work at home if possible. Schools shut down, a week at a time at first and then through the end of the schools year. Computers, if they had them, allowed so many students to keep up with the school work and their parents to stay connected to their job.

If we had to leave the house, we were told to "social distance," keeping at least six feet between other people. We were encouraged to wear surgical masks or cloth masks and bandannas covering our nose and mouth. Enterprising volunteers made cloth masks that they donated to nursing homes and other facilities or sold to a desperate nation.

One of the bizarre aspects of the coronavirus is the hoarding of hand sanitizer and toilet paper, even though diarrhea was not a common problem with the virus. Store shelves for toilet paper, paper towels and hand sanitizer have remained bare for much of the past six weeks and even Amazon is back ordered. There have been reported fights at some stores over the few remaining rolls of toilet paper. At the same time, some stores report runs on pasta, canned goods and other shelf-stable goods. Most recently, as the coronavirus forces some meat-packing plants to shut down, some meat is increasingly hard to find.

Now, at last, the coronavirus appears to be on the wane. We still must practice social distancing, staying home if we don't feel well, washing our hands for at least 20 seconds often and, if possible, wearing a mask in public.

Some experts fear a resurgence of the coronavirus in the fall, which typically is flu season. We absolutely must be ready if that happens. Doctors recommend getting the annual flu shot as soon as it is available. When masks again appear on the shelf, we should buy only enough for our family and ourself. Make sure your pantry is full of food items you will need if ordered to stay at home. Have some extra toilet paper, but don't go crazy -- save some for everyone else.

At the same time, America must make sure it has the supplies and equipment it needs for another pandemic. We should remember the lessons we learned in the past few months and not be caught short if the virus comes again. Our scientists must continue to seek a vaccine.

And, the nations of the world must work to ensure that the research their scientists are doing is conducted safely and with every necessary precaution to keep another pandemic from sweeping the world.

Once again, we must thank our medical professionals and other first responders. They have been amazing and we'll never be able to repay the debt we owe them.

Here in College Station and Bryan, we say thank you also to the restaurants which provided food to our health care providers and to our friends and neighbors who reached out to feed and care for those who lost their job due to the pandemic and others who are struggling to survive. Thank you to the school workers who provided meals to our children learning from home. Thank you to the people who checked on their elderly neighbors. Thank you to the grocery clerks and restaurant workers who stocked the shelves and worked the drive-thrus.

You all have made the past few weeks far less onerous than they could have been.

To those who lost loved ones to the coronavirus, please know you are in our prayers.

We still have a way to go, but the end of the pandemic is in sight.

Thank God.

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