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Keep Calm, It’s a Pandemic

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

By Sarah Sweeney
October 3, 2020

As leaders in our community it is important that we understand the impacts the current pandemic has on our local areas and how we can mitigate the risks that are yet to come in the weeks, months and years ahead. Unemployment, food insecurity, homelessness, increased substance use and a higher prevalence of emotional disturbance have been experienced by more than one quarter of the United States population alone, which is three times more than before the pandemic. As social distancing measures increased, so too has isolation, desperation and poor coping mechanisms for society’s most vulnerable; which could lead to larger gaps between the “haves and the have nots.” As public administrators we often represent those effected most by economic downturn, civil unrest and social inequality so it is even more vital to understand (or at least acknowledge) the impacts a global pandemic has on the emotional wellbeing of our constituents.

The sheer gravity this pandemic has left in its wake, even though it is far from over, has been amazing in the worst way and has expanded in to a global issue with significant impacts that are expected to remain for years. It has certainly become a public health emergency as there are over 33,560,877 confirmed cases around the world and not many answers are available yet as to when a solution will come about. It has also become a public administration puzzle, to figure out how to manage the government responses in a coordinated effort that is both consistent and reliable. Proactive measures to control the spread of disease have included shutting down industrial operations, small businesses, international (and local) travel and large gatherings of populations worldwide. These measures have contributed to a massive shift in the administration of public services.

We have witnessed firsthand the challenges these changes have on our communities, with increased unemployment, decreased tourism and resulting economic impacts, as well as a higher prevalence of emotional despair as mentioned above. Because we are not experiencing this pandemic in a vacuum. It is important to share what we have learned in the event that it could aid in the recovery of other communities globally. Information sharing between nations has been pivotal in the quick response and education of the public and has occurred despite tense political relationships already in place. We are in a unique position to ensure success in pandemic mitigation moving forward as a global community if we continue to work together with common goals of health and wellness for everyone.

In an article from Forbes on leadership lessons learned during this pandemic time, the writer offers that assessing, imagining and preparing are key factors in mitigating further crisis in our world. The first step is to assess the problem and identify the contributing factors that might impact the community; next is to imagine the alternatives and possibilities that might solve or eradicate any barriers to achieving your mission; finally we must make any necessary preparations within our communities and response teams to be ready for the work ahead. As public administrators we have a special calling to lead others and make an impression on the world around us. We can do this by following guidance already in place and making our own paths moving forward to solve this pandemic crisis.

To be an effective leader in today’s ever changing landscape we must first understand the roots of the problem we want to solve, acknowledge any prior attempts at resolving the issue and brainstorm new ideas in defining unanswered questions. COVID-19 and the resulting global pandemic has allowed a unique opportunity for us to better understand community, communication and leadership; especially if we compare the responses to the crisis between nations. Public administrators have the tools to build a better society by making lasting change for future generations and to do the necessary work that will leave our world better than we left it. There is still a very long road ahead in making these changes and as public stewards it is our duty to hold our leaders and ourselves accountable. Open and honest communication, clear and detailed planning and informed and educated plans are absolutely necessary to ensure the public’s trust. Public trust is at the forefront of our profession and providing our communities the tools to make their own informed choices on attending to this pandemic crisis will go a long way in rebuilding our future together.

Author: Sarah Sweeney is a professional social worker and recent graduate of Seattle University’s Master of Public Administration program in Washington State. She may be contacted at [email protected]

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