The coronavirus struck nearly 20 years after the terror attacks in the United States on 9/11 and in a drastically different manner: slowly at first and essentially invisible, a far cry from the explosions after airliners slammed into Manhattans Twin Towers with the scene immediately beamed worldwide.
But the two crises which will likely shape generations of New Jerseyans share certain commonalities when it comes to public health. Both disasters prompted unprecedented levels of anxiety and depression, especially for those intimately involved in the response, experts note, and are likely to have long-lasting impacts on individuals, families and communities.
Both 9/11 and the COVID-19 pandemic have led people to view the responders firefighters and emergency medical personnel then, and nurses, doctors and other caregivers today as heroes, a term experts acknowledge can be good and bad. Sometimes the hero label can prevent these responders from seeking help for their own mental health or substance abuse issues, clinicians said, and those who endured 9/11 may find it even harder to handle with the pandemic stress of today.
If you are dealing already with mental health issues, anything pre-existing, you dont bode well if there is some kind of major trauma, explained Jodi Streich, mental health director for the World Trade Center Clinical Center of Excellence at Rutgers University, one of a network of federal programs set up in the wake of the terrorist attacks to assist responders and others who experienced health issues as a result of their time at ground zero.
The health care workers are now our first responders, Streich said, and they face a similar strain as those who rushed in to save lives when the World Trade Center towers collapsed.
First responders of all kinds are sometimes less willing to seek help when they need it, experts note, which creates an additional challenge. This is a very hard population to take care of because they are people who take care of other people and are not used to taking care of themselves, added Dr. Iris Udasin, the centers medical director.
Streich said that while the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered significant stress for health care providers and the public, individuals who have a history of post-traumatic stress disorder like the centers 9/11 patients are particularly at risk for a relapse. All of us are noticing as clinicians, and just as human beings, the heightened irritability and anger among people, she said. And for those with PTSD, Its a whole new, re-awaking of the previous trauma.
Udasin, a professor at Rutgers School of Public Health, said the center contacted its more than 2,000 patients to check on their well-being during the pandemic, which proved fatal for some. Many 9/11 survivors struggle with lung damage, she said, symptoms of which can mask the appearance of COVID-19 and make them more vulnerable to infection and serious illness.
Many of our patients were short of breath already, Udasin said. I lost a few patients to COVID who thought it was asthma or COPD. Another died of suicide, caused in part by the isolation resulting from the pandemic lockdown, she said.
COVID-19 has killed more than 650,000 people nationwide, including some 27,000 in New Jersey, where more than 1.1 million residents have been diagnosed with the disease since it first emerged in March 2020, state statistics show. Since then, COVID-19 has caused nearly 90,000 New Jerseyans to be hospitalized, and case counts and hospital admissions continue to tick upward with the growing presence of highly transmissible variants of the coronavirus.
Nearly 3,000 people died in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks including 750 New Jerseyans and some 6,000 more were injured. But the death toll from that crisis continues to mount, as thousands more have since succumbed to cancer, lung damage or other illnesses linked to toxins emitted from the smoldering pile of debris at ground zero, which was the site of a rescue and recovery mission that lasted nine months.
The disparities in total fatalities hint at how the pandemics impact may eventually overshadow that of 9/11. The coronavirus was a tragedy for everyone. Nine-eleven was an assault on all of the United States, but if you lived in Nebraska you felt sad about 9/11 but you werent exposed to the toxins if you lived in Nebraska, Udasin said.
But there are clearly commonalities too. People are still dying from both. I think thats one parallel, said Steve Cicala, a founding member of the New Jersey Emergency Management Task Force, which was created in the wake of 9/11 to help coordinate the states response to mass-casualty events. Cicala lost his wife, a nurse, to COVID-19 in April 2020.
Despite the different nature of these two catastrophic events, the response to 9/11 has informed how New Jersey reacted to the pandemic, according to those involved. The EMS task force a nonprofit that is available to help coordinate large, multijurisdictional emergency responses itself is an example of that process, members said. And its work evolves more with each crisis or incident, with members learning from every hurricane, train crash or other big event, Cicala explained.
Before 9/11, EMS was a loosely knit group of agencies. There really was no connective tissue, recalled Mickey McCabe, another founding task force member who also runs a private ambulance company in Bayonne he started in 1973. McCabe recalled his struggle to effectively deploy assistance to ground zero from among the 200 ambulance units that had showed up on their own at Liberty State Park that day, all determined to help despite the lack of a coordinated plan.
Members said that since then the task force has used grants and other funding to acquire resources that were beyond the reach of local responders. The list includes ambulances with extensive medical equipment that can transport 20 prone patients at once, mini-ambulances for off-road use, and a unit that can refill multiple oxygen tanks at once. Its grown from a loose-fitting group with a vision, and we started to knit together a patchwork and make it work, McCabe said.
Part of the task forces evolution has involved working with local responders to create action plans that can help guide decisions in a crisis. As a result, the task force now has plans for some 15 different scenarios from dealing with tropical weather to performing water rescues to evacuating hospitals that give them a head start when disaster hits.
But all plans, including pandemic plans created by the task force, should be considered a starting point and need adjustment in real time, responders said. A COVID-19 response framework drafted by state officials was essentially abandoned when the pandemics requirements quickly outpaced the response outlined on paper.
These plans are really guidelines, said Lou Sasso, another task force leader who also serves as Middlesex Countys emergency response coordinator. These situations are always a little bit different and require flexibility, he said. But with bright people, the right resources and the right plans, thats how you make things work.
The state Department of Health also worked to beef up various preparedness programs after 9/11. Department spokesperson Dawn Thomas said federal funding was used to augment the capabilities of 22 local health departments that now serve as a coordinated public health network.
One of the lasting impacts was foundation building building and sustaining relationships with healthcare systems and local health departments, particularly in regard to preparedness, Thomas said. The alliances have continued, she noted, allowing the state to funnel additional federal funds to local hospitals for emergency preparedness needs.
The work of the EMS task force has also benefited from the relationships members have built over the decades with local responders and community groups. The groups connection to state officials has also strengthened significantly in recent years, providing new opportunities to support larger public health efforts, which became critical during the pandemic.
In March 2020 task force members helped state officials set up the massive, drive-through COVID-19 testing sites. Weeks later, the team was called in to evacuate dozens of frail elderly residents from the St. Josephs Senior Home in Woodbridge, which had been overrun by COVID-19 infections. The group worked with state officials and local providers to create pop-up vaccination sites at the Jersey Shore this past Memorial Day. By June, the organization had taken on the near-daily responsibility of distributing vaccine doses from a storage facility in Mercer County to vaccination sites throughout the state.
Weve become sort of the tip of the spear in some respects for the state Department of Health, Sasso said, enabling the state to quickly expand testing or vaccination capacity in communities hard-hit by COVID-19. Weve become their boots on the ground when it comes to public health.
Task force members are pleased with the groups progress and McCabe said he is proud of how EMS response has evolved to become more coordinated in New Jersey, which is known for its fierce commitment to local, or home rule. I think we are far ahead of where we were on Sept. 10, 2001, Cicala said. We have come a long way and we are more prepared now than we ever were.
However, there is always a need for additional funding, members said. New communication equipment is high on the list of needs, Sasso said, and it isnt cheap. Updating and maintaining what we have [is the priority]; if we could enhance it, even better, he said.
Udasin, from the Rutgers World Trade Center clinical program, said there is also a need for greater investment in mental health care. Access to treatment has improved over the years, she said, but insurance coverage for behavioral health care remains sub-par. And for some there is still a stigma around asking for help with psychological issues, she explained.
Thats one lesson we should take out of this crisis, Udasin said. It took a long time to make the treatment of mental health as accessible as physical health [treatment] in our world. And as a world, we need to collectively treat mental health better, to treat peoples fears better.
Streich, the mental health director at the same Rutgers program, said people also need to understand that it can take time before survivors are ready to discuss a trauma with others. It took a while for some of the World Trade Center first responders to accept mental health help, she said, and it may be the same for those now on the pandemics front lines.
Thats the thing with PTSD, youre not going to see it right at the moment, Streich said. But I do think its coming. Especially for all those who are burnt out and havent allowed themselves to deal with the current situation.
In that way, both 9/11 and the pandemic are likely to share a sad and lasting legacy. Thats the thing with mental health: Its permanent, Streich said. Treatment can save and improve lives greatly, she said, but you dont get over the problem. Its really always there.
Like 9/11, COVID-19s toll set to shape a generation - NJ Spotlight
- Natural immunity is good. Getting vaccinated after being sick with COVID-19 is better. - USA TODAY - October 19th, 2021
- COVID-19 and pregnancy: Women regret not getting the vaccine - The Boston Globe - October 19th, 2021
- Atea's antiviral pill fails to clear Covid-19, forcing a re-think - STAT - STAT - October 19th, 2021
- Governor Hochul Announces New COVID-19 Data Hub Website to Expand Public Access, Centralize Information and Improve the User Experience - ny.gov - October 19th, 2021
- Nearly every person in Iran seems to have had covid-19 at least once - New Scientist - October 19th, 2021
- Convicted murderer Robert Durst hospitalized with COVID-19 - ABC News - October 19th, 2021
- Biden Admin to Lift COVID-19 Travel Restrictions for Vaccinated - The National Law Review - October 19th, 2021
- Lawyer: Robert Durst is in the hospital with COVID-19 - NPR - October 17th, 2021
- State records 4,485 new COVID-19 infections; 83 in Valley - Sunbury Daily Item - October 17th, 2021
- A dad who traveled 1,200 miles for Covid-19 care is finally going home. Here's what he wants you to know - CNN - October 17th, 2021
- More Covid-19 boosters are on the horizon. But not everyone will need one, experts say - CNN - October 17th, 2021
- Cam Newton reportedly receives COVID-19 vaccine as he looks to sign with NFL team - Sporting News - October 17th, 2021
- Dozens of lawsuits seek to force hospitals to treat COVID-19 with ivermectin | TheHill - The Hill - October 17th, 2021
- The Children Who Lost a Parent to COVID-19 - The Atlantic - October 17th, 2021
- Reddit channel posts stories of anti-vaxxers dying of Covid, scaring fence-sitters into getting the shot - CNBC - October 17th, 2021
- Fans excited to celebrate game day in Tiger Stadium without COVID-19 protocols - WBRZ - October 17th, 2021
- Analysis: With boosters, masks and Green Pass, Israel sees a COVID-19 wave in retreat - Reuters - October 17th, 2021
- COVID-19 in South Dakota: 318 total new cases; Death toll rises to 2,189; Active cases at 5,868 - KELOLAND.com - October 17th, 2021
- Some Sixers thought Ben Simmons lied about COVID-19 exposure to try to get out of Game 7 vs. Hawks, per report - CBS Sports - October 17th, 2021
- COVID-19 testing can be hard to come by in Northeast Ohio - News 5 Cleveland - October 17th, 2021
- More Victorians died of COVID-19 in August than any other point in the pandemic - Victoria Advocate - October 17th, 2021
- Kyrie Irving, angry parents and personal choice in the Covid-19 culture war - CNN - October 17th, 2021
- Is there truly no COVID-19 in Turkmenistan? Experts weigh in - Medical News Today - October 14th, 2021
- Wednesday, October 13, 2021 COVID-19 Updates | Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) - COVID-19 - October 14th, 2021
- Wisconsin hospitals urge COVID-19 vaccination for staff now required to have shot - Wisconsin Public Radio News - October 14th, 2021
- Texas considers law that would ban COVID-19 mandates in the state - NPR - October 14th, 2021
- Legislature doesn't notify everyone in hearing with COVID-19 exposures - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - October 14th, 2021
- The hidden cost of Covid-19: years of life lost among the young - STAT - STAT - October 14th, 2021
- WVU Today | WVU School of Public Health aids state efforts to boost COVID-19 vaccination among minority communities - WVU Today - October 14th, 2021
- DPH chief sees very good trend on COVID-19 cases - WWLP.com - October 14th, 2021
- New Navy Guidance Will Discharge Sailors Refusing COVID-19 Vaccination Without Exemption - USNI News - USNI News - October 14th, 2021
- NEW: 45 deaths in Nevada, but COVID-19 cases and test positivity continue to fall - KLAS - 8 News Now - October 14th, 2021
- UnitedHealth expects smaller hit from COVID-19 in 2022 - Reuters - October 14th, 2021
- Wisconsin students have to do safety drills every year. With COVID-19, some schools are approaching them differently - Wisconsin Public Radio News - October 14th, 2021
- New Zealand reports biggest rise in COVID-19 cases in six weeks - Reuters - October 14th, 2021
- Columbus Division of Police officer dies after COVID-19 illness - NBC4 WCMH-TV - October 14th, 2021
- Bears RB Damien Williams placed on COVID-19 list - The Athletic - October 14th, 2021
- 86 new COVID-19 cases reported for Juneau Oct. 9 thru 11 City and Borough of Juneau - City and Borough of Juneau - October 12th, 2021
- Appleton earmarks $2 million in federal COVID-19 aid to support renovation and expansion of library - Post-Crescent - October 12th, 2021
- Sydney COVID-19 cases ease further as focus shifts to reviving economy - Reuters - October 12th, 2021
- Whats the deal with NJs unspent COVID-19 relief? - NJ Spotlight - October 12th, 2021
- Ingham County health officer: COVID-19 is here to stay - WOODTV.com - October 12th, 2021
- Denby Fawcett: Covid-19 Can't Be Wiped Out But It Can Be Managed - Honolulu Civil Beat - October 12th, 2021
- Howard University Homecoming closed to alumni due to COVID-19 pandemic - FOX 5 DC - October 12th, 2021
- Is it COVID-19, the flu, or RSV? Doctor offers tips - NBC4 WCMH-TV - October 12th, 2021
- Two Bengals placed on reserve/COVID-19 list after playing Sunday - Acme Packing Company - October 12th, 2021
- Indiana sees decline in first and second doses of COVID-19 vaccinations - WANE - October 12th, 2021
- Boston Marathon organizer says 93 percent of participants are vaccinated against COVID-19 - Boston.com - October 12th, 2021
- When Will the Covid-19 Pandemic Be Over? - Gizmodo - October 12th, 2021
- How your emotional response to the COVID-19 pandemic changed your behavior and your sense of time - KUT - October 12th, 2021
- Amazon sued by warehouse workers over COVID-19 screening pay - Reuters - October 12th, 2021
- Fauci says he 'strongly suspects' that COVID-19 deaths will go down in the winter | TheHill - The Hill - October 10th, 2021
- Are COVID-19's big waves over? Experts are split | TheHill - The Hill - October 10th, 2021
- A look at major COVID-19 developments over the past week - The Atlanta Journal Constitution - October 10th, 2021
- Ivey extends limited COVID-19 health emergency to Oct. 31 - WIAT - CBS42.com - October 10th, 2021
- COVID-19 case rates remain high in Inland Northwest - The Spokesman Review - October 10th, 2021
- Johnson: Hospitals overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients 'doesn't mean there's some massive crisis' - Wisconsin Public Radio News - October 10th, 2021
- Onondaga County and Kinney Drugs to host COVID-19 booster clinic Thursday, October 14 - CNYcentral.com - October 10th, 2021
- So far this year, schools report far higher rates of COVID-19 in students, staff - WBUR - October 10th, 2021
- Learning the lessons of health care worker burnout from Covid-19- STAT - STAT - October 7th, 2021
- Explainer: What researchers say about the long-term effects of COVID-19 - Reuters - October 7th, 2021
- COVID-19 vaccine mandates pressure employees to get their ... - October 7th, 2021
- Public Health urges vaccination as COVID-19 metrics improve, expands booster shot clinic - Communications and Outreach - Communications and Outreach -... - October 7th, 2021
- DHHR reports active COVID-19 cases about the same - West Virginia MetroNews - October 7th, 2021
- Best Practices For Documenting The Covid-19 Vaccination Status Of Employees - Forbes - October 7th, 2021
- COVID-19 in South Dakota: 474 total new cases; Death toll rises to 2,170; Active cases at 6,716 - KELOLAND.com - October 7th, 2021
- Here's how one college system kept Covid-19 cases down as they surged throughout the state - CNN - October 7th, 2021
- Hungary has offered help to Romania in treating COVID-19 patients - foreign ministry - Reuters - October 7th, 2021
- Minnesota to expand COVID-19 testing options in schools - Minnesota Public Radio News - October 7th, 2021
- Grant program in Chesapeake on wastewater tests for COVID-19 to possibly expand - 13newsnow.com WVEC - October 7th, 2021
- Onondaga County school switching to remote learning because of Covid-19 cases and quarantines - syracuse.com - October 7th, 2021
- Newest state workers face termination over COVID-19 mandates - The CT Mirror - October 7th, 2021
- NCDHHS: 70% of NC adults have received first dose of COVID-19 vaccine - WNCT - October 7th, 2021
- COVID-19 reinfection likely for the unvaccinated - WANE - October 7th, 2021
- Austin PD will start testing uniformed officers for COVID-19 every week - KXAN.com - October 7th, 2021
- WV Gov. Justice reads through 97 COVID-19 deaths Thursday, the most yet - WBOY.com - October 7th, 2021
- Should your vaccination status be on your resume? Heres what experts say - CNBC - October 7th, 2021
- Researchers say Hawaii Health Department officials have refused to share COVID-19 data - Honolulu Star-Advertiser - October 7th, 2021
- Health expert weighs in on where Washington stands in reaching COVID-19 herd immunity - KING5.com - October 7th, 2021
- Patchogue, NY Coronavirus Updates & News For September 29 - October 3rd, 2021