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COVID-19 Pandemic and Lessons from Chernobyl

Photograph of finished “Shelter” at Chernobyl, Ukraine, c. 1990. MS211 Armin Weinberg, PhD papers, TMC Library, McGovern Historical Center.

by Armin D. Weinberg, PhD

April 26 is the date in 1986 when the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant accident occurred. April 26 is a day in 2020 that we find the world, our country, our community considering how to move forward with the uncertainty, fear and realities of the COVID-19 Pandemic. There have been those who describe Wuhan as China’s Chernobyl. I believe time, data, scholarly analysis and transparency are the equivalent to our finding effective treatment and a vaccine for the virus itself. As someone who participated in studying the impact of Chernobyl in the initial decade following the accident I have the advantage of looking back and understanding how the intersection of science, public policy and government played out. It made designing studies difficult where even those with data about exposure came to view it as a commodity. I hope the many lessons, such as this, will permit us to manage the current Pandemic better. The advent of social media and the decline in trust of the traditional media may well prove to be a critical variable that frankly didn’t exist in the Chernobyl incident. In short the time for information dissemination, transmission of facts are countered by rumor, intentional misinformation, and there appears no natural buffering of these by time. It now is instantaneous. Ultimately it is my hope that the efforts to share what was learned through our archive’s collections will prove helpful to those now beginning to manage and study this COVID-19 pandemic.

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