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National COVID-19 Preparedness Plan: What It Means for Public Administration

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

By Romeo B. Lavarias
April 29, 2022

COVID-19 shook not only the world and the United States, but also the pillars of public administration. Never before has an event challenged our society at its core like this pandemic has. Our nation was challenged on many fronts, i.e., culturally, economically, socially, politically and ethically, and unfortunately, failed on many fronts as well. However, in the nation’s defense, the COVID-19 pandemic was unlike any previous pandemics the United States has encountered. What separated it from previous pandemics—the 1918 Spanish Pandemic/Spanish Flu,1957-1958 Influenza Pandemic/Asian Flu, 1968 Influenza Pandemic, 1981 AIDS Pandemic, 2009 Influenza Pandemic/Swine Flu and the 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic—was that it impacted all age groups, all races and was not limited to only a few countries or locations. In response, the White House issued the “National COVID-19 Preparedness Plan” in March 2022.

The purpose of the plan is to create a strategy to aid the nation’s various sectors in addressing the future of the pandemic as it continues to vary in its spread and impact. To accomplish this, the plan outlines four goals: Goal 1) Protect against and treat COVID-19; Goal 2) Prepare for new variants; Goal 3) Prevent economic and educational shutdowns, and 4) Continue to lead the effort to vaccinate the world and save lives. All four goals have implications for public administration through their respective sub-goals, objectives and use of performance measures. While the sub-goals are worthy to be examined individually, this discussion will examine those that are most important for public administrators to be aware of and are most in need of implementation.

One of the sub-goals of Goal 1 is to “Ensure that Americans—of all ages—can get the protection of an effective vaccine” (page 9). The Biden Administration proposes to continue to provide all Americans free, safe and readily accessible vaccines, as vaccines are the most effective defense against COVID-19. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will also continue to monitor the efficacy and durability of currently authorized vaccines against current and future variants and make recommendations to optimize performance. Public administrators will be challenged to negate misinformation in order to convince their communities to seek out the vaccine, as well as to make it available within their own jurisdictions. 

One of the sub-goals for Goal 2 is to “Leverage a proven COVID-19 Surge Response Playbook.” The Biden Administration has developed a comprehensive emergency response COVID-19 surge playbook to implement mass vaccination and testing sites, expedite deployments of surge medical and emergency personnel, expand hospitals and emergency facilities and provide emergency supplies. The challenge from a practical public administration perspective will be where to set up these facilities within their respective jurisdictions. Many location—churches, parks, community centers, etc.—were challenged by the initial volume of, and then severe drop, in attendees seeking testing and/or vaccinations. It also caused traffic issues that exacerbated frustration on the public, and adjacent areas. In some cases, the location of COVID-19 testing/vaccination sites were politically motivated and set up in areas only benefitting those in close proximity.

One of the sub-goals for Goal 3 is to “Give schools and businesses guidance, tests and supplies to stay open, including tools to improve ventilation and air filtration.” The U.S. Government will provide a “Clean Air in Buildings Checklist” which all buildings can use to improve indoor ventilation and air filtration and will encourage uptake of ventilation improvements. The Biden Administration will also provide technical assistance that encourages schools, public buildings and state, local and Tribal governments to make ventilation improvements and upgrades using American Rescue Plan funds. Applied to schools, this sub-goal will address 130, 930 K-12 public and private schools (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2022). The challenge faced by public administrators regarding this sub-goal will be the cost of bringing these schools up to the standards outlined in the above-mentioned checklist. In almost all cases, schools may have to be retrofitted and/or upgraded to match desired improvements. Today, many schools suffer from mold and mildew due to poor ventilation, and no improvements have been made thus far. 

Finally, one of the sub-goals for Goal 4 is to “Save lives by solving the oxygen crisis and making emergency supplies widely available.” The U.S. Government will make oxygen and PPE available, enhance testing, provide treatments, strengthen global health systems to fight COVID-19, protect healthcare workers from COVID-19 and essential health services from COVID-19 disruptions, improve detection monitoring and mitigation of new COVID-19 variants and increase regional and local manufacturing of countermeasures. To accomplish this lengthy to-do list, additional funding will be required by Congress. While all these are worthy goals, the necessary funding will have to be taken from other social programs or raise taxes. Public administrators must brace themselves to be ready to work without certain social programs, and to be able to justify all their COVID-19 actions (via grants) to secure the funding necessary to support these efforts.

While the plan provides a thorough strategy, the real challenge is actually implementing it. There are 26 sub-goals under the four goals of the plan. Where to start, how to measure and how to distribute funding will all be challenges that the Biden Administration will have to meet head on if this plan is going to succeed—and public administrators will need to be monitoring the plan’s implementation ever so closely.

Author: Romeo is the Emergency Manager for the City of Miramar, FL and is an Adjunct Professor for Barry University’s Public Administration Program where he teaches undergraduate and graduate courses. He is a Certified Emergency Manager through the International Association of Emergency Managers. His research interests include emergency management, homeland security, ethics, and performance measurement. 

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