What we have learned relates specifically to the social determinants of health – the conditions in the places where people live, study, work and play and how these can dictate health outcomes. This is a subject that used to be very academic. People used to say, “Yes, yes, poverty, poverty, poverty,” but they didn’t understand the concept. The virus has really made it very illustrative, very illustrative, by affecting racial and ethnic minorities much more severely. It has become very clear that the country’s health really depends on addressing these social determinants of health. And I see the difference in the health department and the difference in the government and even in the media, which is a good sign for the future.

PABLO RODRIGUEZ, DOCTOR AND MEMBER OF THE GOVERNMENT COMMITTEE THAT LEADS THE DISTRIBUTION OF THE COVID VACCINE IN RHODES ISLAND

If the government ignores systemic racism – if it fails to recognize the inequality in access to health care and employment – it essentially shapes the lives and experiences of people of color. The result is the profound and dire health inequalities that we have seen in this pandemic. If employment, housing, education, and access to health care are not taken into account in a pandemic, these inequalities worsen exponentially.

UCHÉ BLACKSTOCK, NOT DOCTOR AND FOUNDER OF EXTENDED HEALTH EQUALITY, A HEALTH CARE GROUP

The pandemic exposed the failure of America’s fragmented, for-profit healthcare system. Medicare for All enabled us to address the social determinants of health by focusing on prevention, primary care, and treatment of chronic diseases rather than specialized care. A resilient public health system would allow us to quickly implement the kind of surveillance, tracking, surveillance and data collection that is vital to responding to a pandemic or other public health crisis.

ZENEI TRIUNFO-CORTEZ, PRESIDENT OF THE CALIFORNIA NURSES AND UNITED NATIONAL NURSES

The main lesson: This is what happens when we treat the elderly as expendable. In this case, there is definitely an element of age discrimination that really affected the way the country made decisions and passed policies. From the beginning of the pandemic, we knew that older adults and people with underlying health problems were most at risk, yet we decided to ignore the fact that we can mitigate some of that risk with adequate evidence, personnel and appropriate protective equipment. And we didn’t. Older Americans and their caregivers did not receive an adequate priority until recently when vaccines became available. And what an amazing difference there was.

KATIE SMITH SLOAN, PRESIDENT OF THE LEADERSHIP, REPRESENTS NON-PROFIT SENIOR HOUSES