Since I live in a small out-of-the way county that has had one reported case of COVID-19, a second recently rumored, I have been hesitant to write about The Big Disruption in our lives. I am obviously not sharing the valiant struggles of nurses and their associates, at the side of infected patients gasping for air, most in densely populated urban centers like Chicago, or in nursing homes.
I will not gainsay or second-guess decisions made thus far by top elected officials, who are up to their eyeballs in alligators. My thoughts are about what we might learn for the future from our plight of the present.
As is typical when crises pop up, often unanticipated or undetected until too late, there has been a food fight of finger-pointing among elected officials. Governors are blaming the president. Mr. Trump is pointing his finger at everyone and anyone but himself. Congress is playing dumb, as if, “We didn’t know nuttin’.”
Yet some members of Congress knew enough to dump their stocks before the market tanked, without letting you and me in on the pending crisis. Maybe we could have been ahead of the curve instead of trying to flatten it.
The priesthood of science is obviously central to our response, and we have mostly been listening to and following their advice. Yet scientists are not the only “experts” who should be called upon. If I have heard the phrase “social distancing” once, I have heard it a million times. You and our fellow beings are social animals. We are “social experts.”
Yet, I feel we have been treated like dummies in all this, simply told from on high how we must behave. So far as I can tell, we have not been asked, nor were restaurateurs, retailers, people who deal with the public intimately, if we have any ideas for keeping distant from the virus.
Even if we had nothing useful to offer, the gesture of including us in the response to the virus would increase our willingness to adopt the “We’re all in this together” mantra.
We could send our suggestions to our state legislators and members of Congress. They and their staffs could sift the wheat from the chaff and move any good ideas up the chain.
My single offering about appropriate behavior would be to put the onus on you and me: Caveat emptor — Let the buyer beware. If one fears an encounter, avoid it. If one is willing to take the risk, as part of life, take it, and suffer any consequences.
As for who has been affected: government employees and pensioners are generally OK. Farmers and maybe big business will be taken care of with all the federal money on which the ink is still drying.
Not so for most small business people, to whom my heart goes out. I heard on the radio (source not given) that 100,000 mom-and-pop-type businesses had already closed, for good.
Small business is really a tough slog. Along my long and checkered careers, I have twice failed at starting small businesses. You sweat blood at endless work, agonize over how to make the looming payroll, and borrow beyond your means, all for a chancy chance to make it on your own.
What have we learned?
• Be prepared. If governors and their states say they are in charge, they need to stockpile the necessaries for next time.
• Conduct a deep, after-action, cost-benefit analysis of our response to the crisis. The benefits of locking us down are significant, I’m sure, yet the costs to the economy and social well-being are massive as well.
(This analysis would be a bit dicey, for a price would have to be put on human life, something many consider priceless. Of course, insurance companies put prices of human life all the time, and public policies forsake precious lives regularly. We could, for example, save thousands of precious lives annually if we set all highway speed limits at 35 mph, but of course the public wouldn’t stand for it, nor for the lost time and productivity.)
• One size does not fit all.
• Evaluate the effectiveness of the varied responses by other nations.
• Figure out how to live as normally as possible with viruses and their threats. This won’t be the last one. According to assistedlivingfacilities.org, using CDC data, the 15th to 22nd deadliest events in U.S. history have been the individual flu seasons of the past seven years, almost as deadly as the coronavirus thus far.
• And don’t patronize me and my smart friends as if we were as dumb as a stump.