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Jeff Schlegelmich

National Center for Disaster Preparedness, The Earth Institute, Columbia University, Director | USA

Jeff Schlegelmilch was the Manager for the International and NonHealthcare Business Sector for the Yale New Haven Health System Center for Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Response. Schlegelmilch led a study to determine the requirements for a national operational epidemiological modelling process. He is also a FEMA certified Master Exercise Practitioner and has been in a leadership role on numerous discussion and operationsbased exercises, including one of the largest municipal bioterrorism response exercises ever conducted. Schlegelmilch has also been published as an Opinion Contributor by The Hill and Fortune and has been used as a subject matter expert for numerous media outlets. Jeff Schlegelmilch presented the findings of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness on how the marginalized communities are disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19. He referred to the social aspect of the pandemic to implement better responding strategies considering the different structures inside the society. Schlegelmilch also discussed the political and financial aspect of the COVID-19 and underlined that fostering the connections within a community leads to a better recovery.

One of the key factors in responding to the COVID-19 is that it is a very uneven experience and it is going to continue to be as persistent. This is driven by a lot of determinants, from ecological conditions to the natural spread of the disease to population density and movement, seasonal effects that are not fully understood as well as within communities themselves.

The data was produced by the National Center for Disaster Preparedness in New York reports about the marginalized communities that are historically disenfranchised or bearing a disproportionate burden of this disease. The first outcome is that there is an outsized number of cases among African-Americans, Hispanic and Latino populations. These are individuals who are historically bearing the brunt of chronic diseases due to structural inequities and structural racism and a lot of policies. It predisposes people to outsized effects of disasters and in this case, infectious diseases. But also amplifying that it is these populations, those who are more likely to be essential workers. They have to go to work when many other people could stay home or work remotely. There is a social aspect to disease, and a social aspect to the response in combatting the Pandemic.

Second outcome in response to COVID-19 is the false narrative that the economy is either has to shut down or keep going while fighting the disease. When USA is compared with the European countries, it is seen that the lockdown is more aggressive, uniformly and temporarily in Europe. It depressed economic activity and then it bounced back faster than the US. Pandemic affects society in waves. What is important is that when you get through one wave, what do you do immediately afterwards to keep that transmission low. How do you prepare for the inevitability of another wave coming down the road?

Controlling disease spread creates options for the economy. It means that there can be re-openings, travels with restrictions, and makes individuals responsible for their actions. COVID-19 is not just about the illness; it is about loneliness. It is about not being able to work, being stuck at home, which has cascading effects across civil society. We see statistics for abuse. We see it in loss of traction for other public health threats, increases in STDs, loss of traction and in malaria prevention.

Third outcome is the hints on the rise in nationalistic tendencies. What is experienced in the USA is seen throughout the world. Politicians are pushing for dubious science, trying to say that improperly tested vaccines are ready, which is a conspiracy. This is just unfortunately undermining broader efforts for COVID-19 response. However, there is a silver lining, and some best practices. There is a spiritual effect in terms of seeing what it could be like if we look at climate change, if we look at the impact we are having on our society and. There are some things that we need to go back to the way they were before, but not everything. We have new methods in remote collaboration and education that are connecting people like never before such as telemedicine and e-commerce. These are not a replacement for in person transactions. However, it does open new avenues of connection. One can see investments in healthier buildings in terms of cleanliness, the quality of air purification, just better environments, professional education. Some people were all learning to be better online collaborators as well as seen a lot of incredible work across sectors, particularly in the biopharmaceutical sectors, in terms of sharing technologies and sharing platforms and also this relooking at domestic and regional production.

How much do people really want to move towards the fragility of global just-in-time supply chains? It saves a lot of money and obviously creates a vulnerability. When we talk about the total cost of disasters, there are vast majority of the countries identified which high income or upper middle-income societies are there is a lot of expensive materials in the way of disasters. When the actually impact on the overall economy is analyzed, what is the cost of the pandemic in relative to the Gross Domestic Product, the output of a country’s economy? The most affected were the vast majority of low income or lower middle-income countries. What the cost really represents is the loss of lives, loss of livelihoods and the human element of these disasters.

When we are talking about resilience and disasters, whether it is COVID-19 or a weather-related disaster, there is a political component. There is a component of the built environment, of the of the social environment, of the ecology in wherever the disaster is taking place. All of these various aspects of society come together to formulate resilience. There is no single answer. There is no single person responsible, but it is distributed across all of civil society and requires us to work towards that common goal. Otherwise, we risk focusing all your efforts on the built environment only to fracture the social cohesion and the social connectedness of certain groups.

The US right now has wildfires, tropical storms, coastal storms, tornadoes, and Derechos. To brief in a nutshell, those trends are going up in the US and across the world. These disasters will create more impact. The way that society has responded to these crises and how the responses are financed is continuing to change. In wealthier countries, there are a lot more insurance spreading the financial risk across the private sector to increasing access to the recovery. There is less of this coverage in developing areas, lower and middle-income countries, where financial assistance could be more important with the impact being the proportion of gross domestic product.

The inequalities in disasters are not just a humanitarian issue. It is matter of who lives and who dies, of who recovers and who does not. Fostering these connections within a community, neighbors helping neighbors leads to less death and better. Mental health outcomes and connections with the government tend to speed up the recovery process.

With that, uncertainty is here to stay. All people are in a place of uncertainty. Nobody knows when the pandemic will end. We do not know what the effectiveness of a vaccine will be. Building adaptive systems are going to be more successful in the face of uncertainty than planning for one specific event or one specific scenario. As we are seeing with climate change, the past can provide hints at what we’re going to see; but, it is not a good predictor of what is going to happen, particularly with the increase in extreme weather events. In fact, there’s no single indicator of resilience. We need to pull together all of the various aspects of community and managing uncertainty and adapting to these situations.