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Lessons of COVID after four years

This weekend marks the fourth anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it is a time for serious, somber reflection. There have been more than 774 million confirmed cases of COVID since March 2020, with more than seven million deaths to mourn.

Not only that, but new variants of the coronavirus still remain a threat to Americans, especially those with underlying health conditions. Reported levels of the virus in U.S. wastewater remain high, with terms like “wave” and “surge” making the rounds again. Then there’s long COVID: Lingering symptoms, such as the loss of taste and smell or chronic fatigue, are affecting millions of adults and children alike.

People have to continue adjusting to our new reality. Much of what the public health community emphasized during the pandemic still applies. While we live freely, we must also continue to live cautiously, testing for the coronavirus if and when symptoms arise. As we all discovered early in 2020, testing literally saves lives, and the same is true today.

Are we still in the middle of a public health emergency? Fortunately not. However, testing is still important.

My company, Puritan Medical Products, knows a thing or two about testing. At the onset of COVID-19, the federal government enlisted Puritan to ramp up the production of flock tip testing swabs, which are preferred for COVID tests. In a matter of months, with government support, we became North America’s largest manufacturer of COVID-19 testing swabs. Our team worked around the clock — in the middle of a pandemic no less — to produce hundreds of millions of swabs, saving countless lives.

So, yes, we understand the importance of testing better than most. Whether it’s for COVID or another possible condition, early detection is key. This is true on an individual level, but also in terms of protecting others from viral transmission and contraction.

Learning our lessons from the past is the best way to look forward. While we reflect on the pandemic, we can also draw inspiration from how far we have come, based on the private sector’s collective response to an unprecedented public health crisis. Acknowledging the public sector’s own leadership, all Americans should be proud of the industries that innovated at a time of need.

For years, Americans saw breweries and distilleries race to produce hand sanitizer, taking a step back from beer and whiskey for the greater good. We saw dozens of U.S.-based companies push the limits of mask production when demand was at its highest. And we saw uniquely impacted businesses, such as gyms and fitness centers, finding creative ways to serve customers.

Private-sector innovation, during good times or bad, is America’s roadmap for the future. Companies large and small must continue to reach new heights with research and development, manufacturing, and employee training. Finding human capital may be difficult in today’s labor market, but there is talent to be found, and the most innovative companies will place an emphasis on recruitment and retention as a competitive advantage.

I trust in America’s entrepreneurs. I have faith in America’s business community to look back on our COVID-era successes and achieve more success in the years to come. However, we all have a role to play — from producers to consumers. As the pandemic revealed, it is crucial for the U.S. economy to develop, maintain, and grow a domestic industrial base that does not rely on foreign countries. And it is equally crucial for American consumers to support domestic industries with their hard-earned dollars.

This also applies to the government, which should support “Made in the U.S.A.” companies above others. Facing intense competition from countries like China, it has been disheartening to see so many COVID-era innovators shut down production and lay off workers, with public- and private-sector buyers favoring cheaper, lower-quality alternatives from abroad. Puritan is certainly not immune to this harsh post-COVID reality, although we have branched out to other applications and gained new customers.

American society — from Washington, D.C. to Guilford, Maine — must retain the patriotic mindset that navigated a pandemic and got our economy humming again. If “Made in the U.S.A.” was important then, isn’t it still important now? Can’t we still be patriotic, supporting entrepreneurship that happens here?

Looking back and looking ahead, we have every reason to be hopeful about American industry, as long as it isn’t on an island. Through public-private partnerships, there are no limits to our ingenuity. And we’ll be even readier for the next crisis — because of what happened four years ago.

Templet is executive vice president of global sales at Puritan Medical Products.


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