Juliette Kayyem, former Assistant Secretary for Intergovernmental Affairs at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, recently spoke about how the public and leaders need to prepare for the months ahead in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here are takeaways from the discussion:
- Kayyem explained that we could be in this situation for the long haul—at least two years. “The reason why we’re here is because we only had one tool left to deal with a pandemic whose case fatality rates we did not know,” she said. “We had one tool to flatten the curve. What does a flattened curve look like? It’s longer. Whereas a heightened curve goes through a country, kills a certain of number of people, makes immune a certain number of other people and we have herd immunity.”
- Eventually, she said, there will be reopenings, but it won’t be tomorrow. “When we start to ‘open up,’ it will not be a light switch,” she said. “There will not be a moment when we all come out of our houses and start to relive life as we knew it. The way to think about it is a little bit like whack-a-mole.”
- Kayyem said the COVID-19 pandemic is unlike any other disaster that homeland security officials have had to deal with before. “What we’re about to experience is something we’ve never experienced before in disaster management,” she said. “Typically, we experience the disaster event, then we implement the recovery. What we’re about to experience is a simultaneous response with recovery, because we don’t have a vaccine. Our true recovery date could be two years from now when we have that vaccine. What will we experience between now and that true recovery date? I call this stage the ‘adaptive recovery stage.’ States and localities will prioritize what they open first: schools, essential needs, certain businesses. Then there will be tertiary, third, fourth, fifth tier openings.”
- She said this will all be dependent on testing and tracing. “We’ll have a series of tools available to us in this two-year period that will make it easier for us to live and manage and dance and work around the virus, but will also mean that the virus is ongoing simultaneously.”
- Kayyem touched on the false equivalency of prioritizing the economy versus public health. “No one who is promoting strong social distancing is immune to the argument that this is really bad for the economy,” she said. “We know that. The alternative, though—a virus that is not managed—is much worse. Trust me. We’re going to get to a stage in which we find an acceptable balance. It’s going to require more aggressive testing, tracing, tracking of family members, quarantining. It will take creativity from employers.”
- She also pointed out that there will be more deaths. “Whether it’s 60,000, which I think is low, or 400,000, all of us will be touched by this on a personal level if we haven’t already. We want to move forward; homeland security is about the flow of people, goods, ideas, and networks. But it’s about how to get societies to move while still being secure. That will be a very hard balance. Instead of thinking of ‘the new normal,’ I think we should look at this as “the now normal.” In the adaptive recovery stage, each day has the potential to be very different from the day before. It will be a remarkably fluid couple of years ahead.”
Watch the full conversation below:
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Pacific Council.