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Disaster Zone: COVID-19, Adapt Not Endure


September 17, 2020 by Eric Holdeman
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Disaster Zone: COVID-19, Adapt Not Endure

While it may seem like we have been in a pandemic forever, it has only been seven months. There have been many twists and turns along the way. Because COVID-19 is a novel virus, we continue to learn and adapt as we move down the pandemic path.

A Long Journey

And the journey is not over. What will happen in the fall is not clear. Medical experts are predicting that the fall and winter season could be very medically challenging with the entire medical system — from pre-hospital to hospital and intensive care systems — being overwhelmed due not only to the coronavirus but the simultaneous onset of the flu season.

People are trying to look into the future for when this all will end and when we can get back to business and interact normally. My wife and I were just discussing how family get-togethers at Thanksgiving and Christmas will not likely be what we have enjoyed in the past. So it is with governments. We anticipate getting back to “normal” but there is no date certain in the future when that will come.

At First it Was a Sprint

Early in the pandemic it seemed a bit like a race that was a sprint. Everyone was seeking the most up-to-date information, watching the national news, and checking with other governments and agencies to see what actions they were taking in response to the detection and then spread of the virus.

More Like a Marathon Now

Now in the middle of the pandemic mess it feels like a marathon; a race with no end in sight and we continue to run, up one challenging hill of issues and down the other side. I know individuals who feel like they have — in runner terms — “hit the wall” and are just trying to plow through and put one foot in front of the other. Anyone who has run the Boston Marathon knows about the infamous “Heart Break Hill” at the 20.5-mile mark, and the toll is takes on a runner’s body and psyche. Many people are at that point.

Looking Forward to the End

The natural inclination is to keep up the pace and endure: exhausted but looking forward to the end. This is the wrong approach to this pandemic, both for people and for organizations.

Many people believe that the arrival of a vaccine or vaccines will be the magic solution that puts us all back to normal. Remember that there is an efficacy factor with any vaccine, and no one is promising a 100% effective solution that prevents someone from catching the virus. The arrival of a vaccine will not be like flipping a switch labeled “Back to Normal.”

It is time to accept that getting back to what was is unlikely. There will eventually be a ‘new normal’ but it won’t be where we were in January 2020, just before the pandemic landed in the United States.

Adapting to a New Reality

The solution is to adapt to a new reality — some of which will include:

  • The recession we are in will not magically disappear any more than the virus will be gone overnight. The recession will be officially confirmed by economists in early October.
  • Small businesses have been struggling due to forced closures. Many will not reopen permanently. Small mom and pop restaurants have been hit particularly hard.
  • Unemployment for workers making $20 or less an hour will remain high.
  • Decreased tax revenues will be the norm for many months going forward: Budget cuts will need to be made to staff and services.
  • When local governments start cutting into police and fire budgets, you will know that we have entered a new era in budget reductions.
  • Eventually, the statewide eviction moratorium will go away, which will impact those who already live on the margins and have no safety net. There will be a rise in homelessness among individuals and families, putting a strain on agencies that are already struggling to meet housing needs.
  • Food insecurity will continue to be a significant issue in many areas.
  • The ability to fund parks and recreation activities that are not tied to state or federal funding will diminish.
  • Mask wearing may continue as a societal norm among some populations of people, such as we observe in many Asian countries already.

The above is only a partial list to get you thinking now about what changes you need to be making. Many times, choosing priorities early on helps diminish the final impact of those choices on people and programs.

Hope comes from the fact that we went through the great recession and emerged from it. This pandemic, too, will pass, but not tomorrow and not without adaptation to the new realities of today.

Eric also hosts the Disaster Zone Podcast.


MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

About Eric Holdeman

Eric is a nationally known emergency manager and consultant. He has 28 years of emergency management experience, having served at the federal, state (Washington), and local government (King County) level, as well as in the nonprofit sector. He is the Principal for Eric Holdeman and Associates and serves the Director for the Center for Regional Disaster Resilience, which is part of the Pacific Northwest Economic Region (PNWER).

He is a prolific writer, authoring numerous articles for professional journals and opinion pieces for local, regional and national newspapers including the Washington Post. He is a Senior Fellow and contributing writer for Emergency Management magazine, where he blogs about emergency management and homeland security at www.disaster-zone.com.

Eric is writing as a guest author. The views expressed in guest columns represent the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of MRSC.

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