COVID-19 Three Years Later: Lessons Learned from the Pandemic

COVID-19 was the biggest public health crisis in living memory. The pandemic took hundreds of thousands of lives. It affected the health of millions of Americans and had a profound and enduring impact on the economy. What have we learned, and more importantly, how should we respond to the next public health crisis?

Three Years Later, What Lessons Have We Learned?

First, a pervasive lack of trust in public health institutions is sure to get in the way of mitigation efforts when the next crisis strikes. For that reason, public health officials have to work hard to regain the public’s confidence. Congress has a role to play in evaluating the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s actions and tightening statutory language to lessen ambiguities ahead of future health emergencies. Relatedly, interventions should evolve in real time in light of new scientific evidence. For instance, Mercatus scholars found that indoor vaccine mandates proved ineffective in nudging people to get vaccinated and did not result in fewer deaths from COVID-19, despite burdening businesses, workers and customers.

We also found that severe isolation measures in nursing homes to prevent deaths from COVID-19 actually contributed to more deaths overall. The assumption that non-profit/government nursing home facilities were superior to private sector ones was also unfounded: for-profit nursing homes did a better job protecting the lives of residents. We also found that more widespread testing and a more efficient vaccination distribution could have saved thousands of lives in nursing homes. Those lessons should be incorporated into preparedness plans.

Perhaps the greatest lesson is that we have still have much to research about our public health response to COVID-19 and much to learn about how to best prepare ahead of the next crisis.