Remember when it was nearly impossible to get a COVID-19 test, let alone a vaccine? Just weeks ago, it was a mad dash. Now, they’re in every local pharmacy and will even be offered at the county fair.

These achievements are truly remarkable. As a result, countless lives were spared from COVID-19 and life will start to get back to normal on June 15.

But just as it’s already hard to remember the early days of the pandemic, when we thought wiping down groceries and using gloves at the gas station would help flatten the curve, we will soon forget the massive effort mounted by public health officials, local hospitals and our essential workers to fight this pandemic. And they, too, will soon forget the details of what they did and what they would do differently knowing what they now know.

Our local leaders need to do a deep-dive assessment of their work over the last year. Now, while the tribulations and triumphs are still fresh in all our minds. They should be analyzing data and revising emergency plans to get ready for the next crisis. Our current leaders must start today to write the playbook for their successors.

San Mateo County Manager Mike Callagy told the press this week that the county will take time to reflect, particularly on what went wrong. He said the progress made in the last 15 months may likely have taken 10 years if not for the urgency of the pandemic and will help the county better respond to all kinds of disasters.

But when I asked about contact tracing last week, Deputy Chief of Health Srija Srinivasan said the county hasn’t yet stepped back and assessed the full picture of the program’s effectiveness over the last year.

I hope it happens soon, because the next crisis is coming. We’ve already had the first wildfires of the season here in California, and don’t forget about that massive West Coast earthquake that’s on its way when we least expect it. The pandemic isn’t over either, and some experts even expect a winter resurgence.

As citizens, it’s up to us to demand officials dedicate staff, time and our tax dollars to improving our emergency response, from the systemic all the way down to the specific.

This whole year we’ve been hearing: “We’re building the plane as we’re flying it.” So let’s sit down, and let’s build a better plane. Our lives depend on it.

—Sarah Wright

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