Large-scale pandemic events have sent scientific communities scrambling to gather and analyze data to provide governments and policy makers with information to inform decisions and policies needed when imperfect information is all that may be available. Historical records from the 1918 influenza pandemic reflect how little improvement has been made in how government and policy responses are formed when large scale threats occur, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. This commentary discusses three examples of how metadata improvements are being, or may be made, to facilitate gathering and assessment of data to better understand complex and dynamic situations. In particular, metadata strategies can be applied in advance, on the fly or even after events to integrate and enrich perspectives that aid in creating balanced actions to minimize impacts with lowered risk of unintended consequences. Metadata can enhance scope, speed and clarity with which scholarly communities can curate their outputs for optimal discovery and reuse. Conclusions are framed within the Metadata 2020 working group activities that lay a foundation for advancement of scholarly communications to better serve all communities.