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Remembering the Pandemic

With public-health experts and international organizations no longer considering COVID-19 an immediate global threat, the pandemic has already begun to seem like a distant memory. But forgetting the hard-earned lessons of the past three years will leave us ill-equipped to handle future disasters.

FAIRFIELD COUNTY, CONNECTICUT – President Joe Biden’s administration has officially ended the national health emergency in the United States, allowing the remaining pandemic restrictions to expire on May 11. Other countries have already taken similar steps, and more are expected to follow suit. With the World Health Organization no longer considering COVID-19 a global health emergency, it seems that the virus and its massive death toll will soon fade from memory, along with N95 masks and PCR tests. But this collective forgetting jeopardizes efforts to secure consistent funding for public health.

Our ability to forget something as catastrophic as a pandemic is partly a coping mechanism, reflecting the emotional immune system that enables us to move on with our daily lives. As devastating as the pandemic’s social and economic impact has been, it has left an indelible mark on only a relatively small subset of the population, including survivors of lost loved ones, health professionals and other frontline workers, the immunocompromised, and those experiencing long COVID or other related health issues.

While tragic events often inspire us to pursue reform, our willingness to act is often short-lived, making it difficult to affect lasting change. This pattern is particularly evident in the news coverage and Google search trends that follow tragedies such as mass shootings, tsunamis, and earthquakes, which typically show an initial surge of interest that gradually fades over time.