The coronavirus has taken our country by surprise. We were not prepared and equipped to deal with the amount of testing that is needed. If the threat were not dismissed months ago, so much time would not have been lost understanding the problem and setting up systems to address it. Having a vaccine remains a work in progress, and the supply chain to provide preventative care is fragile. This pandemic has disrupted our daily routines, societal problems have intensified, and some are profiting off people’s fears. This crisis will pass and the aftermath should not shift our behaviors like the Department of Homeland Security has and how airport security has changed over the past 20 years.

Despite this not being an intentional attack on our nation and countries around the world, a vulnerability has been exposed and we cannot afford for it to be exploited. We’ve seen what happens when that is done. As we say in the military, the enemy has a vote. It will take true national leadership, decisive action, shared resources, and collaboration to ensure our enemies don’t act to exploit this situation with an intentional act.

I’m not paranoid, this is not a conspiracy theory, and this is not a partisan topic. It doesn’t take perfect vision to see that the initial response to this situation was slow and insufficient. After the market took a sharp decline, massive cancellations, pictures of Americans stuck on cruise ships, and action from Democratic and Republican governors took place, only then is when this administration attempted to provide a clear message, allowed health care experts to speak, and worked with House leaders to pass legislation.

An unclear strategy to coordinate efforts, speed up responses, and be proactive to prepare for and prevent any global or national health pandemic is unacceptable. An office to do just that was actually created under the National Security Council after the 2014 Ebola outbreak. Our enemies are always plotting against us, and our allies always rely on us. It comes with being a superpower and having a democracy. We cannot afford to lose confidence in our government, and our elected leaders must act swiftly and responsibly during a crisis. When bad management is mistaken for good leadership, it exacerbates other vulnerabilities.

Even without the corvonvirus, regular needs are not being met. Too many children are without balanced meals on the weekends, during the summer, and holiday seasons. The racial wealth gap remains wider than the Mississippi River. Lack of broadband infrastructure hinders rural communities from being connected to the world. Seniors still fall into the health care donut hole. A segment of small business owners are still less than one season away from losing their business. In this economy, the middle class is often considered to be working poor. For most people, working from home is not feasible. Those who rely on tips and make minimum wage struggle to make ends meet. When you factor in COVID-19, even more people are overstretched, the hardship is deepened, and the recovery will be longer.

This is not about protecting our borders, cutting taxes, less government, another bailout, or providing every American with $1,000 checks. This is about using the instruments of power and our collective sensibility to prevent our critical vulnerabilities from being exploited. If we don’t, we’ll find ourselves worse off than before.

The coronavirus wasn’t preventable, but it was predictable. We must acknowledge what went wrong, what should have happened, and implement the corrective actions immediately. Too much is at stake if we don’t get this right to prevent another pandemic and further burden those that have to sacrifice the most.

Clay Middleton, of Charleston, has held various senior-level positions in government and politics.

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