NYMC Faculty Publications

Drawing Parallels Among Past Public Health Crises and COVID-19

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Disaster Med.Public.Health.Prep

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Center for Disaster Medicine


In the early stages of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, there were shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) and health-care personnel across severely affected regions. Along with a lack of testing, these shortages delayed surveillance, and possible containment of the virus. The pandemic also took unprecedented tolls on the mental health of many health-care workers who treated and witnessed the deaths of critically ill patients. To address these effects and prepare for a potential second wave, a literature review was performed on the response of health-care systems during the influenza pandemics of 1918, 1957, 2009, and the epidemics of Ebola, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). We can use lessons identified to develop a competent and effective response to the current and future pandemics. The public must continue to engage in proper health mitigation strategies, including use of face coverings, physical distancing, and hand washing. The impact the pandemic has had on the mental health of frontline health-care workers cannot be disregarded as it is essential in ensuring effective patient care and mitigating psychological comorbidities. The lessons identified from past public health crises can help contain and limit morbidity and mortality with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.