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COVID-19’s Impact and Public Administration

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Dwight Vick
September 16, 2021 

COVID-19 recovery has a face that many may not recognize.

According to Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering, as of September 16, 2021, approximately 225 million people have contracted COVID-19. This has resulted in over 4.6 million deaths worldwide. Between 400K and 750K people contract COVID-19 daily. Other websites, like Worldometer, estimate 42 million Americans contracted the virus, resulting in 682K deaths. Americans have requested over 611 million COVID-19 tests, which is almost two tests for every American. The short-term cost in lives, lost productivity and nasal swabs falls short of long-term implications.

Paul Gerwich, Senior Fellow at Brookings Institute and Constitutional Law professor at Yale, wrote in an editorial published by Brookings in June, 2020 about the longer-term impacts of COVID-19. He estimated that by 2025, between $16 and $35 trillion will be spent toward COVID-19 abatement, totaling two years of the United States gross income. Over time, the costs will impact 5 to 10% of one generation’s productive life and $8.6 trillion in long-term healthcare costs. The average American will pay $26K over their lifetime in pandemic relief. What are the other costs?

American students will lose an estimated 12 months of math and reading education.

Over two million Americans will leave the workforce, most of them women.

The average American will save 5% less due to COVID-19-related costs. Yet, an estimated $1.6 trillion will shift toward the wealthy, thereby widening the income gap between the haves and have-nots.

Now more than just a public health issue, COVID-19 is a national security crisis.

What are the long-term national and international impacts on our society?

Will COVID-19 lead to sweeping political change both in the United States and the world? Will more people immigrate from authoritarian countries to democratic nations because of the transparency surrounding COVID-19? Will they immigrate to the United States, where wearing a mask in some places throughout our country is even discouraged, or will they take their talents to other countries that have been less cavalier about public health? Will more people migrate from countries with frail governments to more stable ones? Will there be more global collaboration not just to combat COVID-19, but also other worldwide issues, like health and economic welfare issues?

Will COVID-19 create a generation of less educated scientists, mathematicians, social scientists and readers? Prior to the pandemic, college students enrolled in online college classes. The social-emotional connection that is imperative for K-12 students extends to college students as well. Has COVID-19 exposed the need for us to train college instructors on teaching like our states mandate for K-12 teachers?

Will governments be required to list COVID-19 on that list of vaccinations that children must have to enter school, a vaccination equal to Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR), whooping cough and chicken pox?

Is COVID-19 creating a generation of less-educated Americans who will earn less over their lifetimes, thereby damaging our long-term economic growth?

Two million Americans are leaving the workforce, most of whom are women. Will this reverse our national efforts to diversify the workplace?

Has COVID-19 exposed our nation’s long history of systemic racism and healthcare fears? Many reports state that people of color are unwilling to get vaccinated. For African Americans, one word supports their unwillingness, “Tuskegee.” People of color already have a shorter lifespan than Caucasians, due in part, to equal access, lack of preventative care and fear of being used for medical experimentation.

What will healthcare look like after the COVID-19 crisis ends? Will insurance be linked to employment? Will medical insurance programs not linked to employment like CHIP, SCHIP, Medicaid and Medicare expand to include every American regardless of their employment status? Can a tax base, one whose earning capacity can diminished due to COVID-19, afford it or will our society divide itself on this issue like those who support or oppose vaccinations and masks?

While there appears to be an increase in the number of college students who are inspired to enter healthcare fields as a result of their pandemic experiences, there is a mass exodus of educators leaving K-12. After decades of increased and overwhelming accountability measures, COVID-19 was the final straw.

Has COVID-19 revealed our infrastructural weaknesses? As our nation shifts toward expanding Internet access throughout the country, will we be forced to consider Internet to be a public utility equal to water and electric services, or will it remain a privately-controlled system?

Over the past five decades, Americans have reported they have less faith in our nationally-elected leaders while trusting our more locally-elected ones. Is COVID-19 contributing to that trend because our policies alter as the virus morphs, thereby contributing to this lack of governmental trust at all levels?

For every one question, ten more arise. Both our history and our future know the answers but we know two facts. First, just like our ancestors who faced and overcame Spanish flu a century ago, we will survive this pandemic. Secondly, the need for us, as public administrators, has never been greater.

My previous essays called for us, as public administrators, to expand beyond ourselves. Local bureaucrats—public health officials, teachers, utility workers, law enforcement, immigration workers and elected officials—must publicly unite to educate the people we serve about what we do and how we quietly but efficiently work to improve the quality of our lives. COVID-19 has required us to respond, and not just react, to this crisis.

COVID-19 recovery has a face– yours, mine and ours.

Author: Dwight Vick, Ph.D. is a 28-year-long ASPA member. An adjunct professor, he owns D.A.V.E – Dwight A. Vick Enterprises, a consulting and grant writing business.

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