There’s a popular saying that “hindsight is 20/20.” Indeed, looking back and reflecting on the year, “2020,” I am sad to have to have to acknowledge that our collective choices—related to the pandemic, to the economy, to our democracy—have left much to be desired. The proof is in the fact that COVID-19 has claimed the lives of more than 302,000 Americans, and 1.6 million people around the world to date—many of which were preventable.
Yet for all the losses we have endured this past year, the pain has brought with it an unbearable clarity with which we can learn. For The BUILD Health Challenge® (BUILD) and the communities with which it partners, 2020 served as a stark reminder that the road to greater health equity is a long one. Over the last year, BUILD teams rose to meet the moment and found ways to support their communities—showing us what was possible. With this opportunity for hindsight, we must now ask ourselves one brief, but complex question: “How did we get here?”
If we are to be honest with ourselves, the answer doesn’t simply start and stop with COVID-19. Rather, the virus was the spark that ultimately fed on the nation’s deeply entrenched systems of racism, inequality, and identity-politics. These corrosive elements have, and continue to, thrive out in the open, manifesting in the form of poor housing, food insecurity, violence, lack of access to transportation, and other social determinants of health. And while a vaccine for COVID-19 will certainly help contain the virus, it will never be able to address the many other self-inflicted wounds we find ourselves unable, and in many cases unwilling, to heal.
Looking ahead, as we end 2020 and begin a new year with the hope that the virus will be contained relatively soon, none of us can afford to ignore the longer term challenges will inevitably remain. The question that is now coming into focus for all of us in community health in particular is: “Where do we go from here?”
Learning from the innovations and strategies employed by BUILD teams this past year, the answer is clear. As a nation, we must prioritize investing in our public health infrastructure; supporting the development and capacity building of community-driven, cross-sector partnerships; and dismantling the broken systems that paved the way to where we are today. Underlying all of these actions are the bold, upstream, integrated, local, and data-driven approaches your teams and others are already using.
As 2020 comes to an end, let’s stop looking back and move on—taking with us the lessons learned. Let’s start looking ahead and working to ensure that we not only address the immediate needs related to COVID-19, but also use this opportunity to confront the longer term issues that plague us. The future that awaits us all isn’t one where life returns to some form of what was, but rather, is one in which we recognize the importance of prevention, of public health, and of policies that protect and act on that knowledge. If 2020 has taught us nothing else, it’s that our lives depend upon it.