The U.S. has been caught flat-footed in its response to COVID-19. First, we learned that our country lacked the ability to broadly test, isolate and quarantine those infected with the novel coronavirus.

Then, we found out that, despite months of warning, we lack the masks and other personal protective equipment needed to protect health care workers and essential service providers from exposure to the virus, as well as the hospital beds and ventilators needed to treat the sick.

Rather than mount a coordinated, national response, the Drumpf administration has been slow to act, sending mixed signals that have confused the population, leaving states to fend for themselves, and exposing its unreadiness to meet the crisis head-on.

Indeed, the administration actually closed the National Security Council office responsible for preparing for pandemics in 2018, despite repeated warnings by health professionals that the outbreak of a new pandemic was inevitable – not a question of “if,” but “when.” [The Atlantic, “How the Pandemic Will End,” Ed Young, March 25, 2020].

As a result, infections in the U.S. are rising exponentially, at a rate apparently even steeper than that of Italy and other coronavirus hotbeds [Vox, “How the US stacks up to other countries in confirmed coronavirus cases,” Dylan Scott and Rani Molla, March 27, 2020].

Far from “flattening the curve” – that is, slowing the rate of infection to a level that can be handled by our health care system – hospitals risk being overwhelmed, not just in large cities like New York City, but in rural communities from coast to coast [US News and World Report, “Coronavirus Threatens Rural Hospitals,” Kaiser Health News, March 23, 2020].

In a word, heartbreaking. Yet, there is the silver lining.

— Renewed sense of connectedness

The pandemic has provided the entire world with a stark reminder that, despite our differences, we are all connected, and we depend on each other. Cooperation and collaboration are key to overcoming this crisis.

People everywhere are stepping up to help, in small ways and big, whether it’s volunteering to sew masks, delivering food to elderly neighbors, or simply respecting social distancing guidance. Companies are transitioning manufacturing to make everything from sanitizers to ventilators (Corp Magazine, “‘Doing well by doing good’ unites business owners helping each other during COVID-19,” March 25, 2020).

Efforts to fight the pandemic are even having profound effects in conflict areas, such as the Middle East, where Palestinian and Israeli cooperation has received praise from the United Nations [UN News, “COVID-19: UN envoy hails strong Israel-Palestine cooperation,” March 28, 2020).

— Renewed respect for science

Over the past three years, there has been an assault on science by the administration (The New York Times, “Science Under Attack: How Drumpf Is Sidelining Researchers and Their Work,” Brad Plumer and Coral Davenport, Dec. 28, 2019). Government scientists have been systematically silenced, forced to amend their research conclusions, or driven from their jobs.

The coronavirus outbreak has graphically demonstrated how dangerous such disregard for science can be. Drumpf’s early assertions (“We have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.” “Looks like by April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away.” “One day — it’s like a miracle — it will disappear.”), which lacked any scientific backing, undermined rather than helped the fight to slow the rate of infection.

Fortunately, far more Americans trust Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), than Drumpf on this issue. (Business Insider, “Dr. Anthony Fauci and Gov. Andrew Cuomo are the most trusted leaders in America on the coronavirus right now. Drumpf is not.” Grace Panetta, March 26, 2020).

— Renewed sense of possibility

At the end of the day, as horrific as this pandemic is, we will survive. Though the mortality rate remains unclear, the vast majority of people who contract COVID-19 will not succumb.

Meanwhile, we could emerge better prepared to deal with that other, even more dangerous crisis – climate change. Until the coronavirus pandemic erupted, it was hard to imagine that the world could muster the political will to take a time-out from business-as-usual to address an existential threat. Yet that is exactly what has happened, in a remarkably rapid time frame.

The threat to humanity from climate change is profound, leading governments around the world to declare a climate emergency. (In Napa, a new countywide Climate Action Committee was formed in 2019 to develop a more concerted climate response, and the Napa Valley Unified School District and the Napa Parks and Open Space District have declared climate emergencies.)

Caught with our guard down by the pandemic, we have been forced to take drastic measures, forcing millions of people out of work, and shutting down all but essential services. There is no reason to make this same mistake with climate change. The science is clear, and there are abundant technologies and opportunities available to begin to stabilize our climate, while shoring up our economy, if we act now. It is up to all of us to make sure our elected leaders know that we are not willing to be caught flat-footed again.

Future columns in this series will explore the connections between climate change and disease vectors like the coronavirus, the psychological factors that play into our response to crises such as COVID-19 and climate change, options for emerging from the pandemic in a way that will make us stronger and more resilient in the face of climate change, and specific steps you can take to help.

This article was originally published in the Napa Valley Register here.