Posted on the Tallahassee Democrat. - The USA Today Network on May 4th 2020

Are we ready to go back to the way things were?

The United States reported the first positive case of the novel coronavirus on Jan. 20, 2020, and since then, we have reached one million confirmed cases.

The up side of where we find ourselves is that once we lift the blindfold of what America’s bottlenecks are, we can work to implement change. Once we leave the pandemic behind, we have opportunities to shape the future powerfully.

We cannot deny the damage this health crisis has caused in minority communities, and studies have shown that people who live in the most poverty-dense counties are most prone to obesity, diabetes and hypertension. They are hard-pressed to find affordable healthy food and, at the same time, are subject to a significant disparity in access to health care, information, and labor opportunities.

A solution to that would be to provide them with a weekly healthy food shipment, in a similar fashion that developing countries have done. Food shipments would guarantee the right to proper nourishment for the people living in "food deserts.”

In the wake of this crisis, where our problems far exceed the lack of a vaccine, we have an opportunity to build a society that protects its citizens with a basic income, like Spain is establishing for all citizens. Some argue that without financial anxiety, people are more inclined to pursue job searching, volunteering or participating in the economy. Universal basic income should not be a job substitute — besides we know that financial burden leads to lower productivity and more sick days than the flu.

While the single-payer system proposed by Bernie Sanders would cost an additional $40 trillion in government spending over the next decade and is doomed as unfeasible, doctors and policymakers agree that everyone should have a public health care option.

As the ripple of COVID-19 careens across the states, it also pushes humanity forward. Doctor visits shifted from in-person to remote, novel clinical studies implemented a home drug delivery system, and virtual medical monitoring apps, like Apricity Health, have closed the gap between expertise and real-world  medicine.

Disruptive events usually shift our norms, and for the good of our planet, we stopped traveling as much. The carbon footprint of one round-trip flight from San Francisco to New York generates an outrageous warming effect, equal to two tons of carbon dioxide per person. Corporate travel has proven to be a non-essential expenditure, and the post-pandemic world calls for new business models.

While our online presence skyrocketed and it changed the way we work and live, so did the amount of content we produced. With the speed of science increased by tenfold, so did the number of misinformation articles. The need for a verified online presence became apparent, as every citizen should be accountable for the content they spread – and its repercussions.

In the face of the virus, the economy has sunk, yet technology has saved us from more significant trouble. Although we’ve become hyper-aware and this sensory overload has spiked the cases of anxiety and depression, this pandemic has demonstrated that intellectual power stems from being able to do and share what you know without the need to be physically present. We need to invest in the next generation of thinkers and doers, and perhaps the new standard will be focused on ways to learn, graduate and work remotely.

The economy has shut down in an unprecedented way, and we find it hard to believe the markets are going to recover quickly. Those who need the most — vulnerable and minority communities — are also suffering from a significant disparity in access to healthy food, care, knowledge and the prospect of suitable employment. Do we believe they want to rebound to gridlocked cities, polluted skies and inefficient health care?

We should not expect that this is the last we’ve seen of global health threats, and a global task force should be implemented to prevent such events from occurring in the future.

This painful experience informed us how unprepared we are to deal with global catastrophes.

As predicted in models like COVID ACT NOW, sheltering in place worked, and places that took decisive actions early on, like California and Alaska, are not seeing an overload in the health care services, saving many lives.

Now that health officials and executives are discussing how to reopen a coronavirus-ravaged country safely, should we go back to what we had before? A COVID-19 vaccine is far from reality, and our social challenges remain.

While some are craving normalcy, a few of us are ready for tectonic change.

Leo Nissola, M.D., is a medical doctor, scientist and author. He is an investigator at National COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project and a clinical scientist at the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy.