Guest Op-Ed: Thoughts for a Better Future

By Anthony D’ambrosio

The COVID-19 crisis has brought American society to a grinding halt. In just a few short weeks, we have lost thousands of lives, businesses have closed, schools have been suspended, and we find ourselves in an incredibly unfamiliar place. Yet, we persist.  Our first responders have acted heroically, our municipal and state governments have continued functioning, and our medical professionals have worked tirelessly to save lives. While we need time to mourn the loss of so many of our loved neighbors, friends, and family members, we must look to the future with an eye toward progress. We must figure out exactly what went wrong and seek to ensure that it does not go wrong again. In light of this, I offer a few thoughts in hope of a better future.

On Pandemic Preparation:

As a society, we must prioritize the health of our most vulnerable populations. The COVID-19 crisis has disproportionately impacted the lives of American seniors, and we need to think long and hard about how we can protect them better in the event of a future pandemic. As of April 26, 56% of COVID-19 deaths in the Commonwealth have occurred in nursing or assisted-living homes. Staff members of these facilities have also been exposed to disproportionate risk of illness in recent weeks. This particular issue should not be viewed in a vacuum, as the vulnerability of seniors and staff within our care facilities impacts society at large. “Hot spots” of contagion can, and have, quickly extend outward to the surrounding community as the virus spreads. This has been our experience in the COVID crisis, and it will likely be our experience in future epidemics.

In order to protect our seniors, we must revisit and tighten our regulatory scheme for all long-term care facilities.  Resources must be allocated in reserve before pandemics or disease breakout.  Plentiful testing for employees and residents is essential to safeguarding them.  The availability of personal protection equipment (e.g., breath masks, gloves, and sanitation products) should never be in doubt.  And, finally we must provide for better methods of communication among family members and their quarantined seniors.  With sound planning and modern technology, there is no reason why families cannot see and speak with isolated seniors on a daily basis.  The only thing worse than dying of this illness is doing so isolated and alone, and without the ability to see your loved ones.  As a society, we can do better.   

On the Economy

Working people are the backbone of the American economy, and the Corona Virus has revealed that they are far too exposed to risk. Through April 24, the US has seen a record 26.5 million new jobless claims, and the total unemployment number is racing toward 20%. The financial impact of this crisis will be far worse than that of the 2008 “Great Financial Crisis.” It will be felt for years to come.

How can we prevent such a drastic spike in unemployment in future years? We can plan for the unexpected. Congress’s passing of the “CARES Act” is a good start— most working Americans will receive a $1200 stimulus check, the unemployed will receive extended benefits, and small businesses will participate in loan forgiveness programs. But, this is not enough. The CARES Act is a temporary solution for a problem that is long-lasting.  It is a band-aid for an economic injury that requires stitches. As we face the permanent closure of businesses, more needs to be done to protect workers.

In times of economic uncertainty like these, I am especially concerned with the health of small businesses. These small businesses are the engines that drive the American economy, and they offer the infrastructure that employs roughly 50% of the American workforce. The loan-forgiveness program offered by Congress, however, is temporary and will only last for a few months. Soon, small businesses in Revere, Massachusetts, and the United States at large might be forced to close permanently and force their employees into a state of prolonged unemployment. We should view this potentiality as unacceptable. We should demand that our policy makers commit to extending relief efforts for small businesses. We must keep employees on payroll, from Revere to Los Angeles.

As small businesses face the risk of extended closure and bankruptcy, the prospect of “big business” taking charge and monopolizing market share grows more likely. Since March 1, Amazon’s stock price has surged nearly 30%, as small retailers, grocery stores, and “mom and pop” shops across the Commonwealth have been forced to shutter their doors. If our leaders fail to support small businesses, huge corporations with access to virtually unlimited funding will ultimately kill them. Millions more will go unemployed, and working Americans across the country will lose their livelihoods.

On Strategic Manufacturing:

In recent years, much commotion has been made over the issue of bringing manufacturing jobs back to the United States. And, I agree with the proponents— our economy is primarily reliant upon the “services” industry, and diversification by incentivizing the creation of industrial and manufacturing jobs would do much good. In our approach to diversifying the American economy, we must take a keen interest in creating opportunities for “strategic” manufacturing. In particular, we must create American supply chains for the production of pharmaceutical goods and services. Currently, 72% of all “active ingredient” facilities for the manufacture of medicines sold in the US are located abroad according to the Food and Drug Administration. From 2013 to 2019, the number of these facilities located in the US fell 10%. This is the natural result of a globalized economy, but we can do better in supporting our own citizens by bringing these facilities home. In a crisis like this, we have seen first-hand how important the maintenance of a robust medical infrastructure is. If we are to avoid such harm in the future, we must establish new pharmaceutical supply chains within the United States.

On Education

Schools across the country have been forced to close, and physical classrooms are empty. We need to invest in online and technological educational solutions to prevent such disruption in the future. On this issue, I am proud to say that Revere Public Schools have stayed ahead of the curve— School Department administrators are working hard to increase technological capabilities, and teachers are proving themselves as community heroes by creating innovative and engaging lesson plans for students.  While our teachers’ amazing work is not featured regularly on the nightly news, their engagement with our children during these awful times is no less needed. With an eye toward the future, we would be wise to assess our current remote teaching capabilities and further investigate the use of programs like Google Classroom and Khan Academy in order to ensure that we are prepared for what the future will bring.

In difficult times like these, we must also view schools as social institutions. Hundreds of hard working citizens of Revere are employed by our schools, and they must remain employed if we are to minimize the negative economic fallout of this crisis and help our children through these difficult times. We must keep employees on payroll, and maintaining the level of staffing in Revere schools at this very moment is a good way of doing so.

Our Social Behavior:

Everyone can make a difference in the collective fight for social good, and this COVID-19 crisis serves as a prime example. With incredible collective action by way of “social distancing,” we have made great progress as a nation in “bending the curve” of viral contagion. We must recognize our joint power in situations like this, put aside the politics, and remember that our own individual decisions can make a profound impact on our prospects of recovery. My thoughts and prayers go out to all of those who have been affected by the virus, and I am hopeful that we, together, can prepare for a better future.

Anthony D’Ambrosio is a Member of the Revere School Committee. He is a graduate of Yale University (B.A.) and the University of Cambridge (M.Phil.), where he studied History, Economics, and Public Policy.  Professionally, Anthony is an analyst at a Boston financial firm.

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