The impact of COVID-19 will reverberate throughout New Jersey for years to come. After-action analysis will be critically important to fully understand the pandemic and its impact on New Jersey residents, the healthcare system, schools, economy and other social and economic institutions of our state. As we look to the road ahead from COVID-19, the following are key areas that demand frank conversations, proactive policy and sufficient resources to assure optimal performance, preparedness and outcomes:
Healthcare Resources and Infrastructure: COVID-19 has provided a dramatic reminder of the importance of health and healthcare in our society, and in our economy. We must continue to prioritize good health for individuals and communities, along with the needed funding and resources to adequately support the healthcare infrastructure, public health, emergency preparedness and the supply chain. We also must commit resources and policy reforms that reflect the innovations spurred by this pandemic, including the use of technology to expand healthcare access not just in times of infectious disease outbreaks, but also in everyday use that allows our healthcare system to meet consumers where they live and work. State and federal waivers that facilitated that type of innovation should be made permanent.
And finally, further study of the treatment modalities applied by clinical professionals in New Jersey that improved outcomes and reduced mortality can provide evidence-based knowledge that can inform clinical guidance and preparedness for future infectious disease events.
National Policy: A nationwide crisis demands a coordinated national response and uniform guidance and policies. The decentralized policy approach in this pandemic fueled an uneven response and inconsistent directives that ultimately made the nation more vulnerable as the virus transcended state borders.
Social Determinants of Health: This report was not designed to measure the influence of social determinants of health in New Jersey’s COVID-19 experience, but the impact is undeniable. Housing instability, congregant housing, food insecurity, reliance on public transportation, employment in essential and service industries, lack of access to remote technology and incarceration are a short list of the social issues that revealed systemic issues of inequity. Any public health and emergency preparedness reforms stemming from this experience are incomplete without integrating the impact of social determinants of health.
Healthcare Worker Resiliency: Our healthcare heroes have been on the frontlines of this fight from the beginning. They have held patients’ hands so they wouldn’t die alone, they have seen their colleagues get sick, and they have risked their own health and their family’s health on a daily basis. And tragically, like many New Jersey families who have lost people they love, we have lost members of our healthcare community to this pandemic. Despite all of this, our healthcare workers have risen to the occasion, saving lives and averting a growing toll in mortality, as presented in this report. There will undoubtedly be long term post-traumatic stress and other mental health impacts for these heroes, and we must ensure that the necessary supports are in place to address those issues.