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COVID year 1: What just happened? And where are we headed?

Editorial | March 1, 2021 | By: Jill C. Lafferty

When I think back on the second week of March 2020, I laugh at
how naïve I was. Or rather, I would laugh, if it wasn’t all so devastating. Even after major events started cancelling, and my kids’ school shifted to distance learning, and IFAI staff were directed to work from home, I could only imagine this lasting for a few weeks. We’d “flatten the curve” and everything would return to normal. 

Then a few weeks turned into months, and the months turned into
a full year, with no clear end in sight.

So much is still unknown about 2021 and beyond. But we’re no longer naïve as to what a pandemic means to our businesses, the industrial textile industry, our families, our communities and the global economy.

The losses for some textile market segments, such as tent and event rental, are staggering. Other markets have experienced a surge in demand, but companies in these segments still struggle to manage day-to-day operations because of supply chain disruptions and labor challenges. Stories of these struggles—along with the agility and resilience that industry members have harnessed to overcome them—weave a thread through this special issue of Specialty Fabrics Review

But we’re not just focused on the past. We’re also looking ahead. Now that we know what a pandemic means, what are we going to do differently?

In a December 2020 Atlantic article, “Where Year Two of the Pandemic Will Take Us,” Drexel University disaster historian Scott Knowles notes that the influenza pandemic that began in 1918 “disappeared from public consciousness,” after it receded, sandwiched as it was between WWI and the Great Depression. 

The same article warned that COVID-19 won’t be the last pandemic, or even the worst. The lessons we remember and the changes we institute today will determine how well we are prepared for the next one. What does preparedness mean—especially if the next crisis is different? The good news: Industry association leaders see a path to legislatively shore up PPE stockpiles and U.S. manufacturing capabilities. Automation looks better than ever for managing labor fluctuations. Companies are reimaging how they do business. 

Let’s not wish to get back to normal, forgetting about this past year in the process. Instead, let’s envision something better—and get prepared. 

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