We have learned much since the United States entered a state of emergency in March 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded. The best minds in the world have significantly expanded our knowledge of the virus, and we have witnessed the unintended consequences of certain federal, state, and local government responses to the coronavirus and the merits of many others.  

The researchers at The Heritage Foundation have compiled this compendium to examine both the lessons learned from government policy decisions as well as proposals that can help move the nation forward. This report offers analysis and solutions to deal with the ongoing pandemic and to guide policymakers in crafting health, education, and economic policies while maintaining fidelity to our system of limited government and safeguarding our most cherished liberties. 

The ideas in this compendium build upon the detailed roadmap for recovery of over 250 recommendations that the Heritage-led National Coronavirus Recovery Commission developed earlier this year (available at 

While the initial phase of the crisis may be behind us, the struggle is by no means over. As the pandemic wears on, not only are we searching for a cure, we are working to protect our lives and livelihoods until we do.   

As I write this, more than 200,000 Americans have lost their lives to COVID-19 in the last 10 months. Millions of Americans have lost their jobs, families are struggling to pay the bills, and it is estimated that more than 100,000 small businesses have permanently closed their doors.  

Too many schools are not meeting the educational needs of our children, lacking in-person classroom experiences and offering poor virtual options. Children are falling behind, and many parents are paying tax dollars for schools they are not allowed to enter.  

The Congressional Budget Office projects that the federal deficit will have tripled since last year, and federal debt held by taxpayers is projected to be the highest in our nation’s history, creating an enormous economy-crushing bill to be paid by those same children and future generations.  

With the tragic loss of hundreds of thousands of lives to this dreaded disease, changes must be made to our health care system to better to prepare for the inevitable future pandemics and prevent such a horrific loss of life from being repeated. These include being able to quickly identify and narrowly target care to the most vulnerable and to hotspots where help is needed most, not instituting sweeping sledgehammer approaches that may do more harm to the healthy in the process of trying to help the sick. This requires accurate and timely information, including adequate testing and testing capacity.  

Additionally, sweeping state emergency powers and forced shutdowns seemingly never end in some places, and bureaucratic goal posts keep changing as to what public health strategies are intended to achieve.  

This compendium is essential now as policymakers search for thoroughly researched, data-driven ideas to lead us through this pandemic and toward recovery without compromising the precious liberties that made America the land of freedom, opportunity, and prosperity. 

I find inspiration in the courageous words of a recent opinion from the U.S. District Court in the Western District of Pennsylvania, one of a growing number of cases examining overreaching state pandemic policies:  

The liberties protected by the Constitution are not fair-weather freedoms – in place when times are good but able to be cast aside in times of trouble. There is no question that this Country has faced, and will face, emergencies of every sort. But the solution to a national crisis can never be permitted to supersede the commitment to individual liberty that stands as the foundation of the American experiment.  

The federal government and the American taxpayers do not have the ability or the capacity to support shuttered businesses and laid off employees forever. And the longer people are out of work, away from family and friends, and sheltered at home, the more public health suffers, both physically and mentally. At some point soon, more businesses need to reopen, employees need to be able to go back to work, children need to go back to school, and people need to feel comfortable returning to more public activities. 

Information is power against fear and uncertainty, and I submit to you that the information in this compendium offers a more hopeful, promising, empowering path ahead. 

Kay C. James 
The Heritage Foundation


COVID-19: Lessons Learned and Path Ahead