The failure to contain the COVID-19 pandemic was a result of a combination of factors, including a lack of imagination, outdated reporting methodologies, a breakdown in contact tracing, and the rise of the Delta variant.

Covid-19 revealed this cobbled-together system’s inability to accurately detect when and where the virus was spreading so public health officials could intervene. Those fissures now loom even larger as the Delta variant makes the quick identification of outbreaks and clusters even more crucial to containing the virus.

A sense of surrender was common throughout the pandemic. Faced with underfunded and understaffed health departments, many state officials said they were not able to adequately identify and contain outbreaks during surge periods. At many junctures, states had no choice but to ask Covid-positive individuals to conduct their own contact tracing.

As public health officials saw it, the task of safeguarding their communities from Covid-19 was like jumping out of an airplane with a parachute peppered with holes. Officials were forced to try to patch their parachute while in free fall. Some found a way to the ground. Others did not.

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