Cooperative Extension programs could better prepare us for the next pandemic

The pandemic has highlighted the need to improve medical and public health systems around the world, but in addition to infrastructure shortcomings, Covid-19 has also illuminated the fact that many families are not prepared to manage an emergency. Some academics believe a long-standing extension program could be the solution to better-prepared households. 

Cooperative Extension programs were established in the 1800s in the US to provide families with basic medical knowledge, food preservation techniques, and strategies for building physical and economic security. These programs were formalized by the US Department of Agriculture in the early 1900s, and many public safety advocates argue they should make a comeback to make our families and homes more prepared to handle crises. 

During the 1918 Spanish Flu outbreak, Cooperative Extension programs offered training on in-home nursing, such as how to care for a sick family member while protecting your own health, as well as food preparation and storage strategies and how to optimize emergency supply distribution to reach those most in need. 

Modern-day extension programs could include resources on how to stock a pantry for an emergency, basic first-aid, and financial planning tools to save up for an emergency. Many families have no savings set aside for events like a global pandemic, but improved financial literacy would help provide information on how to set up at least a small monetary cushion. On the community-wide level, these programs would help put guidelines in place for a future pandemic and highlight resources available for those in need should an emergency arise. 

As the first major pandemic in most of our lifetimes, Covid-19 really caught us all off guard, but there are strategies we can employ to be better prepared for the next one that comes our way. Athena Aktipis, associate professor in the psychology department at Arizona State University argues that modern Cooperative Extension programs could be set up by using just a fraction of the money designated for pandemic relief by the 1.9 trillion dollar Covid-19 stimulus package. 

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