Those who view government as the sole source of all good things have seen during the COVID-19 crisis the creativity, inventiveness and nimbleness of houses of worship, charities and businesses. While the gears of government churned into motion, the charitable and business sectors rapidly redirected their energies toward providing emergency relief, caring for those in need, producing medical equipment, delivering supplies and developing medicines and vaccines.

Churches, synagogues and mosques shifted to livestream liturgies to feed the soul. Some churches offered drive-through confessions, others drive-through communion, still others drive-up services and sermons.

The faith community also met the physical needs of a frightened nation. Christianity Today details how a church in New Hope, Minn., refashioned its food pantry into a drive-through; a Jefferson, Ga., church delivered food to health-care workers; and a Birmingham, Ala., church supplied groceries to seniors.

Golden Harvest food banks in Georgia and South Carolina offered daily meals to-go, created a no-contact mobile market and delivered food to seniors.

As Global Impact reports, Americares provided supplies to clinics that serve the uninsured. Direct Relief partnered with FedEx to deliver surgical masks, gloves and face shields. Matthew 25 Ministries distributed medical supplies to nursing homes. World Vision sent masks, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes to family-serving charities. Mercy Corps helped small businesses develop continuity plans and provided emergency payments. The Salvation Army distributed food, baby supplies, sanitizers and paper products.

Foundations and other charities joined forces to sustain cities and states. Seattle-based foundations launched the COVID-19 Response Fund to distribute grants to low-income residents, health-care workers, service-industry employees and the homeless. Foundations and charities stood up the Central Indiana COVID-19 Community Economic Relief Fund to?provide grants to human-services organizations in Indianapolis and neighboring counties. Several foundations formed the NYC COVID-19 Response & Impact Fund to provide grants and interest-free loans to nonprofits. The California Wellness Foundation sent assistance to health-care workers, seniors and clinics. The list goes on and on, repeated in state after state.

American Legion posts prepared meals, delivered groceries and prescriptions, and opened food pantries. Members called on veterans and their families to see if they had needs, or just wanted someone to talk to. The 2019-introduced Buddy Check program assisted thousands across the country.

In the business sector, biopharmaceutical firms such as Eli Lilly launched drive-through coronavirus testing for first responders, health-care workers, essential workers, seniors and at-risk groups. Roche churned out 400,000 test kits per week.

After the Air Force airlifted 800,000 test kits to Memphis, FedEx took the baton and distributed them across the nation.

Anheuser-Busch produced and distributed hand sanitizer across the country. Liquor-maker Pernod Ricard USA – best known for Absolut vodka – converted production lines in Arkansas, West Virginia, Kentucky and Texas to make hand sanitizer. Bacardi and Patrón donated millions to support restaurants shuttered by the COVID-19 response.

LEGO and AT&T donated millions to help families grappling with school closures. Micron donated millions for economic recovery and medical supplies.

Honeywell produced millions of extra N95 masks. Likewise, 3M doubled production of N95 respirators – producing almost 100 million per month – and increased production of hand sanitizers and disinfectants. MyPillow shifted operations to producing masks for health-care workers. Apple donated 20 million masks and began producing face shields. GM, Ford, Tesla, GE and rocket-builder Virgin Orbit started mass-producing ventilators.  

The NFL donated $35 million to COVID-19 relief. The NBA and WNBA tossed in $50 million. Each MLB franchise donated $1 million to ballpark employees to help them through the months without games. MLB apparel partner Fanatics produced masks and hospital gowns. 

New York hotels converted rooms into hospital space, increasing capacity by 39,000 beds.

Scientists across the United States, including the Army’s Medical Research and Development Command, raced to develop a vaccine and identify therapeutic options. Johnson & Johnson plans to begin human testing for a COVID-19 vaccine by September. Moderna?could have a COVID-19 drug for health workers in the fall. 

Through it all, heroes emerged: grocers and nurses, paramedics and long-haul truckers, UPS drivers and doctors, food-pantry volunteers and FedEx pilots, Amazon delivery workers and virologists.  

“The intelligence and power of the people are disseminated through all the parts of this vast country,” the French writer Alexis de Tocqueville marveled of the United States in his oft-quoted 1835 classic book, “Democracy in America.” “Instead of radiating from a common point, they cross each other in every direction.”

Almost 200 years later, that still holds true. 

Fifty states, one nation  Of course, the COVID-19 crisis reminds us that some challenges are too enormous for businesses and charities to address on their own. Those who view government as the source of all our problems have seen the importance of government institutions in preserving public order and public health, providing for the general welfare and coordinating great undertakings.  

Related, the crisis reminds us that our federal system makes it difficult to force everyone in every state and every county to get on the same page. Yet this very system encourages the sort of flexibility, creativity and adaptivity – characteristics Tocqueville observed in the 1830s – needed to attack this challenge in a targeted way.

What makes sense – what’s necessary – for North Dakota in battling COVID-19 may not work for New York. And so governors acted accordingly, basing their responses on what their states needed. Some saw this as haphazard. More accurately, it was adaptive and tailored. That’s the genius of federalism: the government closest to the people is usually best at serving the people.  

Moreover, government agencies suspended regulations and allowed medical professionals to move across state lines to help where most needed. Several states issued waivers to allow medical professionals to conduct health services via computer and telephone. Governors collaborated regionally to reopen their states.

Still, there are some things only the federal government can do. Governors can triage problems and manage local disaster response. Charities can provide stopgap assistance. Businesses can temporarily shift operations to respond to emergencies. But businesses (no matter how big the profits), charities (no matter how large the endowment) and governors (no matter how populous the state) cannot print money, waive federal regulations, distribute stimulus checks, postpone Tax Day, stay foreclosures, backstop industries, halt international flights, or speak for and to the entire nation. That’s where the federal government comes to the fore.  

On Jan. 31, long before most Americans heard of COVID-19, President Trump restricted travel from China and ordered a quarantine of Americans arriving from China. By mid-March, he was framing the government’s COVID-19 response as a “war.” In many ways, the virus has put the United States on a war footing: 

The president invoked the Korean War-era Defense Production Act “to ensure that our health-care system is able to surge capacity and capability to respond to the spread of COVID-19.”  

He deployed the Army Corps of Engineers to transform New York City’s Javits Center into a 3,000-bed hospital staffed by 950 FEMA and Army personnel. 

He ordered National Guard units to assist New York, California and Washington in standing up medical stations, expanding hospital-bed capacity by the thousands.  

He dispatched Navy hospital ships Comfort and Mercy – one to the East Coast, one to the West Coast – each with approximately 1,000 hospital beds and 1,200 personnel. 

As with Lincoln in 1863, Roosevelt on D-Day and Bush after 9/11, Trump declared a national day of prayer, “asking God for added wisdom, comfort and strength.” 

The Pentagon issued a call for veterans with medical specialties; 15,000 veterans volunteered to serve again.

Congress and the president unleashed $2.2 trillion in emergency spending in response to COVID-19. The tsunami of spending, like the COVID-19 crisis itself, touches every sector and citizen: $1,200 in direct cash payments to individuals; $600 a week in federal unemployment benefits (in addition to state benefits); $454 billion in stabilization loans for businesses, states and municipalities; $150 billion to help states and cities address COVID-19; $117 billion for hospitals; $45 billion for FEMA; $27.7 billion to bolster colleges and schools; $25 billion in loans for passenger airlines; $17 billion for national-security firms; and $4 billion for cargo airlines. 

To put the $2.2 trillion COVID-19 relief package in perspective, the federal government spent $4.45 trillion in 2019 – total. Whether the threat is a mighty army or a tiny pathogen, great nations spend whatever they need to survive. More spending is inevitable as Washington tries to contain economic damage caused by COVID-19 and reactions to it.

Consequence  "Reaction” is an important word. All that spending comes in the wake of shelter-in-place orders from governors and social-distancing guidelines from federal officials. Policymakers issued these directives because public-health experts convinced them that shutting down most commercial and public activity was the only way to “flatten the curve.” That’s the term used to describe slowing the spread of COVID-19 by minimizing human-to-human contact, limiting the opportunity for transmission and preventing an overload of the health-care system. By early May, there were clear indications these efforts were working.

However, by flattening the curve, we flattened the economy.  

Experts say the COVID-19 crash could reduce U.S. GDP by 25 percent or more. Already, well over 23 million Americans have claimed unemployment due to the COVID-19 lockdown – the largest spike in unemployment claims in U.S. history – while stocks endured their worst single-day drop and worst first quarter ever as a result of the quarantine.

For individuals and markets, fear and uncertainty are deeply damaging. That explains why Trump has tried to find a balance between public health and economic health. “We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself,” he said as quarantines crushed America’s consumer-driven economy. “Our country wasn’t built to be shut down.”

Trump isn’t alone. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has suggested the “quarantine everyone” and “close everything” approach may not have been the best strategy. After almost a month of mass lockdowns, Cuomo called for “a modified public-health strategy that ... complements a get-back-to-work strategy,” adding, “It’s not we’re either going to do public health or we’re going to do economic development ... We have to do both.”

As the worst of the public-health crisis recedes, Washington now faces the enormous economic crisis spawned by reaction to COVID-19 – mushrooming deficits, skyrocketing unemployment, devastated industries, flattened local economies, and all the collateral damage triggered by addressing these challenges. 

If history is any guide, the U.S. military will sustain some of that collateral damage. After the Great Recession of 2008-2009, federal spending jumped 25 percent in the span of several months. In response, lawmakers passed the Budget Control Act, which included a sequestration provision aimed at shrinking the deficit. The resulting defense cuts undermined readiness and deterrent strength. 

Given the deepening deficits caused by the COVID-19 crisis, it’s likely that defense will again be in the crosshairs. While the Pentagon is an easy target, consider this: we could eliminate the entire defense budget ($738 billion in fiscal 2020) yet would still face a deficit ($1.08 trillion pre-COVID-19) and wouldn’t put a dent into the national debt ($23 trillion pre-COVID-19).

If the defense budget becomes a casualty of the COVID-19 crisis, the consequences could be far-reaching. With Russia on the march and China on the rise, America’s military needs every tool available to protect the national interest and preserve some semblance of international order.  

Cause  That brings us to where this crisis began: China.

We can’t blame Beijing for COVID-19, but we can for its handling of it. What was a manageable public-health problem mushroomed into a global pandemic – erasing tens of thousands of lives and trillions of dollars – because Chinese authorities failed to act and then tried to cover up their failure.

Beijing jailed a physician for warning colleagues about COVID-19 (he later died), refused the CDC’s offer to help, and ordered local scientists not to share or publish findings about coronavirus-genome sequencing. It took several weeks for Chinese officials to quarantine Wuhan, epicenter of the outbreak. During that time, thousands of people left Wuhan for destinations around the world.

The University of Southampton concludes that had Beijing taken appropriate action three weeks earlier,95 percent of COVID-19 cases would have been prevented across China; one week earlier would have prevented 66 percent of cases.

That, in turn, would have prevented COVID-19 from becoming a global pandemic – but that would have required China behaving like a responsible power. Instead, Beijing lied about the outbreak’s origin date, transmission rate and death toll.

The COVID-19 crisis proves that China’s internal political system is an international problem. As the crisis eases, there are signs of a reckoning: global supply chains are diversifying away from China. There’s a newfound – and healthy – distrust of Xi Jinping’s regime. China’s willful mishandling of COVID-19 has become a powerful counterpoint to Beijing’s claim that business-suit authoritarianism is the wave of the future. And there are growing calls for Beijing to face diplomatic and financial penalties for its criminal malfeasance.

All of this takes place against a backdrop of the United States trying to cope with the costs of recovery – and China trying to exploit America’s inward turn. As Henry Kissinger concludes, COVID-19’s “political and economic upheaval ... could last for generations.” 

Learning and loss  After 9/11, we were haunted by a host of new worries: Will this stadium, plane or skyscraper be the next target? How many more indignities, infringements on liberty, screenings and searches must we endure to guarantee our security? What if all those screenings and searches fail? 

In the same way, after COVID-19, each flu season will bring new worries: Is it just a cold or something worse? Will some new virus trigger another pandemic, another panic, another lockdown, another year without all the special moments of springtime – March Madness and opening day at the ballpark, commencement ceremonies and proms, first communion and the last day of school, Easter Sunday services and Memorial Day parades? 

All those moments have one thing in common: large groups of people gathering together. The COVID-19 crisis stripped that away from us. 

We can be thankful for the technologies that allow us to see, hear and communicate with one another. Zoom, Skype and FaceTime have enabled many (but not all) to keep working, allowed many students (but not all) to keep learning, made it possible to conduct banking and some forms of commerce, provided a facsimile of worship services and offered us a sense of connection. Yet a sense of connection is not the same as real connection. These computer-screen connections – faux communities of our digital age – are no substitute for gathering together. What was true in the beginning is true today: “It is not good for man to be alone.” We are made for real connection – for hugs, handshakes and high-fives.  

While the crisis has given Americans an opportunity to reconnect with immediate family and share the precious gift of time, just as many of us were kept apart by the quarantines – and lost that precious gift of time with parents, grandparents, grandkids, friends and faith communities.  

If ever people need real connection and real community – the social support of work, the comfort of grabbing coffee with friends, the joy of visiting Grandpa and Grandma, the reassurance of sharing dinner with extended family, the peace of visiting a house of worship – it’s during a crisis. There’s something transcendent about gathering with others who share our beliefs, hopes, worries and fears.

Too many of us perhaps took that for granted before COVID-19.