Let’s hope that we’ve learned…

May 18, 2020

Jack had a particularly apropos quote today in his blog – Jack’s Winning Words“Experience is a hard teacher, because she gives the test first and the lesson afterward.”  (Vern Law)

We are all living through the test right now and the real-time grades that we see on the news every night show that many are failing and even more are failing to learn. Even the national health official in Sweden who made the call not to impose any stay at home guidance now is saying, “Gee, I didn’t realize that so many would die.” Sweden has experienced one of the highest per capita death rates in the world because of that decision.  They were going for herd immunity and instead ended up thinning the herd.

In the United States we have seen the consequences in meat packing plants across the country of some states not taking enough precautions. We will soon see the second wave of infections due to the re-opening of many states before they were ready. The focus has now turned to testing and tracing, neither one of which we are prepared to do adequately. The models predict well over 100,000 dead by mid-June. Still, some idiots claim this is all a hoax or a plot to unseat President Trump. He certainly doesn’t need the help of this pandemic to prove that he shouldn’t be President.

I’m certain that the cooler heads of the health professionals that still exist in Washington will learn from this experience; however, they will probably not be allowed to use that new knowledge as long as the Tweeter-in-Chief is in charge. He has already chosen to ignore their advice on re-opening the country and called into question their loyalty to him every time they disagree with one of his pronouncements.

Hopefully, the experience of the last four years has taught enough of us a lesson that we take actions to apply what we have learned at the ballot box in November. We shall have to wait until after the election to start to see sanity return to the decision making process at the Federal level. Until that time, remember that we are still taking the test and what you do to protect yourself and others will determine your grade.

Stay home. Stay safe. Learn from this experience.


Let it go and move on…

May 16, 2020

We keep hearing about “the new normal”; but that is because most are still clinging to the hope of returning to the past – “the old normal”.

A quote from a recent post to the Jack’s Winning Word blog comes to mind – “If you have a hard time forgetting the past, remember you can’t drive a car forward by looking into the rearview mirror.”

I’ve written here in the past about letting things go, usually about mistakes that one has made or old relationships that went awry; but, this is different. When your whole way of life is impacted by events it is harder to find a way to let go of how things were and move on with how things are. Really big events, like wars or the happening of 9/11 or pandemics can dramatically reshape our lives and take a long time to put behind us.

We do need to stop looking back at how things were and start figuring out the best way forward in our “new normal”. Many have already taken the step of procuring stylish face masks, having decided that if one has to wear a mask, it should at least be stylish or attractive. I suspect that most also carry hand sanitizer with them and take the time to sanitize often. Most are practicing some amount of social distancing and I suspect that will continue for a while. It may take a while for many of us to get comfortable in crowded spaces or to allow personal touch at places, such as barbershops and hair salons, but that will come out of necessity.

We must also deal with the permanent changes in our economy that this crisis has caused– the companies, stores and restaurants that will now be gone and the business practices that have changed. This crisis exacerbated an already troublesome trend for some merchants of people shopping on-line instead of in their stores. Many more people stayed home and shopped at Amazon, Wayfair, Chewy or other on-line stores than would have otherwise.  Many local merchants also joined the on-line trend as a way to survive during the crisis, but they will likely still depend upon local foot traffic for their future; it will just be a little different in the stores.

Restaurants were probably hardest hit, with many not expected to reopen (estimates are that between 10-15% of all restaurants will be permanently closed). Those that do reopen will present a very different look to patrons, with capacity limitations and social distancing constraints greatly impacting the dining experience. The menu’s may be the same, but “going out to eat” will never quite be the same. Still, it’s better than staying home to eat and we can still see other people – they are only 6’ away.

It can take a generation or two for these big, life-changing events to be pushed down in our consciousness to the point where we don’t think of them often. Those who lived through them seldom forget them, because they remember what life was like before them. Those born after the event have no frame of reference for how things here. For them “the new normal” is just normal.

So, here we are, about to start the “new normal”. A big first step will be putting the old normal behind us instead of continuing to look in that rear view mirror. Let it go and let’s move on.

 My, what a stylish mask you have on, where did you get that?


What we should have learned…

May 10, 2020

While change is a constant part of life; big changes often come about due to some extraordinary event – a natural disaster, a man-made disaster or something like a pandemic. Consider how life changed after 9/11. Organizations like the TSA didn’t even exist before that man-made disaster and air travel has never been the same since. Events like Hurricane Katrina forever changed the lives of people in the New Orleans area. The COVID-19 disaster is one such a big change and life will never quite be the same. A consist factor in all of these disasters was the lack of any planning on how to deal with them.

As the nation slowly finds a way to reopen, even in the face of a sure increase in the disease, we need to try to learn from the experience of having lived through this disaster, so far. Several things are fairly evident:

  1. Government at all levels was very unprepared for an event of this magnitude. A  good deal of Monday morning quarterbacking will need to be done, once we have time to analyze and reflect on the data that has been collected. It was apparent as events unfolded that there was no plan for Federal and state cooperation in place for large-scale disasters like this.
  2. The American medical system was ill prepared to deal with such an emergency and reacted poorly in terms of decision making about what resources to commit to fight the disease and how to keep the rest of the system working while dealing with the crisis.
  3. The American public was initially cooperative out of fear and then began to suffer a split of opinions on the steps taken by governments to try to deal with the spread of the virus. The ugly head of selfishness prevailed for a significant portion of the population
  4. The economic impact of the preventative steps that were taken by state governments was hugely underestimated. The relative frailty of the economy was exposed. No state government was prepared for the impact of the loss of tax revenues.

What are some of the takeaways that should cause further change?

For one, there needs to be a strengthening  of the CDC and it’s leadership role in dealing with pandemics like this, or a new agency created.  Just as the Federal government  created the TSA  to deal with the terrorist threats to our society, a strengthened and more unified organization, led by the CDC, needs to be envisioned. This was not a situation where a thrown-together White House Task force had the authority or the resources needed to effect real change.

The role of government at the state and federal levels in stocking and dispensing emergency supplies, like PPE and ventilators will need to be revisited. The “strategic supply” on hand at the start of this disaster was totally inadequate and the dispersal of that stock was chaotic. The messaging at the federal level  during the crisis was inconsistent and indicative of the lack of a plan. Clearly there was a huge federal role when this pandemic started crossing state lines and “leaving it up to the Governors of each state” was a ridiculous response.

There must be a way to continue to provide for other medical services while dealing with a future pandemic. The medical community needs to have a coordinated plan in place that will allow some hospitals to be quickly dedicated to the fight against a future pandemic, while others are allowed to continue to function in their normal roles. A plan like that will initially have to rely on an agreed upon triage process to identify and segregate the patients with the disease from those that are not impacted. As we learned in this crisis, the development of testing tools and procedures and a much quicker test results will be required. This may also require a provision for funding those hospitals that are designated to become treatment centers for a future pandemic, in order to off-set their financial loss from other services that they must suspend.

A detailed review and assessment of the treatment regiments that were implemented in hospitals also needs to be done. It was reported that up to 80% of patients who were put on respirators ended up dying. If that is the case, then that course of treatment, or some part of it,was probably not the best response. A critical look back at what was done and how that worked out should lead to different recommendations for treatments in future disasters.

There was a very large difference between the impact in urban areas and that in more rural or sparsely populated areas; however; most state government responses did not take that into consideration. The result was a quick rise in resentment and frustration on those less impacted areas to being subjected to the same restrictions or requirements as were applied to urban areas. This turned many who feared the economic impact of the forced shutdown more than the disease itself against their own governments. A much more localized and targeted response will be needed in the future.

There was also a noticeable difference in the impact of the pandemic on certain ethic or socio-economic groups within our society. That needs to be studied and understood, so that changes to the planned response are created for future pandemics. The population of the nation’s nursing homes was particularly hard hit and a review of policies, staffing and procedures for those homes needs to be done and changes implemented. The differences in impact on the black and Hispanic communities also needs to be studied, with causes and changes in mind.

There is always a completely different path that could have been followed. We need to look at the experience of Sweden and see how their decision not to enforce any shutdown worked out. The Swedish death toll pf 291 per million of population is higher than the U.S. toll of 219 per million and their economy has still taken a hit as a result of citizens taking their own precautions and staying at home. Doing nothing also proved costly in terms of lives lost in some starts in the U.S.

There will be no return to the old normal, just adjustments to the new normal that we must  adopt to live with the virus. Watch what the politions say during the upcoming election campaigning and see if anything they say really makes sense. Did they learn from this crisis and what do they say that they will do better to get ready for the next one? And, there will be a next one.

There will be a huge amount of data available for analysis after this is over; let’s hope we used that data to learn something that will help make next time better.


Stay Home…Stay Safe

April 24, 2020

From a recent post to the Jack’s Winning Words blog – “It’s our innate tendency to only act when we’re face to face with danger, rather than to try a preventive approach.”  (From Voices of Youth)

The situation that we all face currently in the danger that the COVID-19 virus poses is not necessarily one for which there was much of a preventative approach, but it is one that we could have been better prepared for as a nation. The Stay at Home measures in place now are about as preventative as we can get at this time, and they are in place just to slow down the spread of the disease before it overwhelms our health care system.

The lack of leadership in Washington just exacerbated the fact that we were unprepared. The so-called National Stockpile of ventilators and Personal Protective Equipment  was exhausted rapidly and even states that had emergency plans in place had grossly underestimated the scope and impact of even their worst case scenarios. For the most part the country rose to the occasion, with most state governors issuing executive orders to stay at home to reduce the spread of the virus.

Those who would act to reopen the economy before we have this pandemic under control and a vaccine in place pose the danger now. The pandemic of 1918 actually killed more people in its second wave in the U.S. than it did initially. You can Google that pandemic to read about it. It is the consensus opinion of our best medical professionals and scientists that we are not yet at the point where states can reopen for business, yet the governors of a few states have bowed to political pressure to restart the economies in their states, not matter what the cost in human lives. There is no way to even imagine businesses and people being disciplined enough to enforce the needed social distancing and personal Protective Equipment use to prevent a second wave from developing in those states.

The almost certain apology, “Gee, I guess I was wrong about that”, has already been used by the Mayor of New Orleans and will be of little comfort to those who lose family and friends because of this lack of the political will to do what is right. Even many of the business owners in those states say that they may not reopen just because the state governor says it is OK to do so. They have more sense than to put their employees at risk.

What can we do as individuals? For one we can show support for the courage that the leaders who put the Stay at Home orders in place, instead of engaging in noisy and dangerous public protests. Use safe means, such as emails, to let those governors no that you agree with their decision and continue to support it and them. Then, do your part by continuing to observe the orders, practicing safe social distancing, and wearing personal protection when you have to go out in public.

Stay Home! Stay Safe!

Pray!


Science or intuition – what will we depend upon?

April 19, 2020

In a recent Corona Virus daily briefing President Trump said, in response to a question about how the decision would be made on re-opening the country, that he would depend upon science and intuition, adding – “a lot of intuition”. So our future is in the hands of a man who depends more on his “gut feel” about things and people than on any intelligent decision making process. Disappointing, but not surprising.

The decisions that must be made on relaxing the current measures to combat the virus really boil down to answering the question – How many lives are we willing to lose to keep the economy afloat. There is some number circulating in the back of POTUS’ mind of the acceptable collateral damage death toll that Americans will accept as the price for getting back to work.  

In fact, Sweden was in the news recently for having made that very decision at the start of the outbreak in their county. The government leaders in Sweden acknowledged that their decision not to impose any stay at home or social distancing mandates would come at a price in deaths – a price that they deemed to be acceptable, in order to keep the economy of Sweden running. Not every Swede agrees with that decision, just like many disagree with the stay at home mandates here .

The few scientific minds that get snippets of TV time during stories about getting America back to work have consistently warned that it will be a complex problem to solve and that acting too quickly to relax social distancing restrictions will put America at risk for a second wave of infection from the virus. Little is currently known about the virus and whether or not some level of herd immunity can be achieved from those who survived infections in the first wave. Scientific progress is being made on multiple fronts – testing, treatments and developing a vaccine – but much work remains to be done, especially to ramp up to the levels needed to insure safety – especially testing  and tracking.  The most honest answers from the scientific world start with “We just don’t know”.

So, on the one hand, we have our best ab brightest scientific minds cautioning against going too fast to reopen the country, while they work as fast as they can to find solutions to slow the rate of infections and deaths.  On the other hand, we have POTIUS going with his intuition and focusing upon reopening the country’s economy at some acceptable cost in lives. Upon which hook shall we hang the health and fate of the nation?

As I watch the posts in Facebook and elsewhere, I often see people who have been posting that this all B.S., a hoax and government overreach that it’s stealing their freedom. They quickly turn to posts of “Holy Crap, this stuff it real”, as soon as someone close to them gets it and dies. One can only assume that a number of the idiots who flaunt the rules on re-opened beaches and at large anti-government mandates rallies will soon become “Holy Crap” posters, if they live to post about it.

Now, more than ever, it is time to pray for God’s help. Pray for intelligence, patience and perseverance to prevail over frustration, stupidity and intuition.