The coronavirus pandemic has shed light on myriad aspects of the healthcare system here in the United States, including the good, the bad, and the painfully ugly. We have also witnessed the many faces of the public’s appetite — or lack thereof — for a coordinated national response, not to mention the scientific community’s deep dive into the heart of the pandemic’s causes and possible amelioration.

Public health messaging has fallen on far too many deaf ears, and the federal government continues to botch multiple facets of the battle. If we are to prevail and save as many lives as possible in the coming months, the power of the collective must be more fully harnessed and realized.

The Collective Mind and Heart

In terms of the scientific and medical communities’ response, exponential progress has resulted from manifold collaborative efforts, the sharing of data and best practices, and the courage and dedication of scientists and medical personnel. In this regard, we see shining examples of collectivism, and the mounting body of literature will fuel research and discovery for years to come.

In medical facilities nationwide, teams form the bedrock upon which the treatment of COVID-19 is built. While we consistently heap gratitude on the praiseworthy nurses, doctors, and first responders on the front lines, we must also recognize the contributions of environmental service staff who clean the rooms of infected patients, and the innumerable individuals who keep medical facilities running smoothly. Beyond acute care, we have social workers, parent aides, ambulatory medical personnel, and home health staff who keep the wheels of healthcare delivery turning.

The societal collective manifests in grocery store and pharmacy employees, and those working in countless essential services and businesses, from the post office and its mail carriers to the local hardware store or bodega.

In the realm of the private citizen, contributions are made by helping neighbors, donating money or time, and remaining as calm as possible amidst existential fear and uncertainty. Our public health messaging has indeed reached millions willing to hear it, and every American who agrees to wear a mask, practice social distancing, and limit unnecessary travel also contributes to limiting the spread.

Where the Collective Falters

The power of the collective falters when the president and other politicians fail to model proper behavior by refusing to socially distance or consistently wear masks. The undermining of science and highly corrosive rhetoric fuel the fire of public distrust, and this only serves to make the work of those laboring around the clock to save lives that much more difficult.

When scores of young people feeling their fictitious invincibility gather at a popular beach en masse or pack a fraternity house without masks or any regard for social distancing, the power of the collective is further hobbled.

Even in the face of danger, accusations fly regarding the impingement on personal liberties vis-à-vis lockdown orders, mask-wearing, and social distancing. The forces of confusion reign supreme in some quarters, and this only extends the depth, breadth, length, and severity of the pandemic.

Misinformation, biased media sources, and those out for their own aggrandizement are a terrible hindrance, and even the tech giants appear unable to reign in the negative consequences and reach of the ubiquitous social media platforms they foisted upon our culture.

The collective falters when rabid individualism or the desire for personal gain eclipse the good of the whole, and we all suffer at the hands of those refusing to fight on the right side of history.

Pulling Together

In order to overcome this grave threat to every aspect of our lives — and life itself — we must unfailingly pull together in unprecedented ways on a daily basis.

If the government wants schools to reopen for full-time in-person education, the funds and federal wherewithal must be made available so that this can be done as safely as possible. If we want every citizen to wear a mask and socially distance, elected leaders must consistently model such behavior. And if we want Americans back to work, we must create an environment wherein this too can be done with relative safety.

In 1918, groups united against social distancing and mask-wearing also arose, and millions more likely died than might have otherwise. In such scenarios, only a centralized federal mandate will mitigate these battles, yet the prospect of such occurring is bleak.

Individual citizens, families, social groups, neighborhoods, and other communities must band together in these times. Faith leaders, social justice movements, and other powerful forces can also join the conversation.

Corruption, infighting, partisanship and politicking, and unfettered opposition to science must be reined in if we are to succeed, and leaders must be elected who can unite the country when the need for collectivism could not be greater.

When the years have passed and the complete history of this coronavirus pandemic is written, we will indeed see the good, the bad, and the veritably ugly. Collective thought and action will certainly be seen as central pillars of the battle; thus we must cling to hope, even as we feel hopeless. The human spirit and the will to survive are strong; now we need even more of us to grasp this notion and cleave to one another and the strength of the collective in the struggle for our future.