In the case of a worldwide pandemic, lots of people die. And unfortunately, lots of them die needlessly. These unnecessary deaths are usually because of politics.
Politics is a smarmy business. And make no mistake, it is truly a business; a very powerful, for-profit, and dangerous one. It is a cesspool of corrupt lobbyists, special interests, and inveterate grifters. Maybe because of that reality, many idealistic, selfless, and honorable people enter the fray, optimistically believing that they can help create a better world.
It’s so damn easy to judge these well-meaning people, question their motives, and project nefarious intentions upon them. But I honestly believe that there are people across the political spectrum who fervently believe in their philosophy and honestly want or wanted to serve the greater good. You don’t have to agree with their politics. But you should recognize that in their hearts they mean well.
I submit the following list, so you can immediately gasp at my ignorance, explain the errors of my selections in the comments below, and ratio me on social media:
I believe they chose to serve because they have principles they live (lived) by. Argue about their politics and philosophy all you want. I'm sure some of the people on the list would argue that the label I assigned them doesn’t accurately describe their philosophy. Society needs debates like that. (Provided the debates are on the ideas, not the personalities.) But if you identify as one of those four labels above, your default, kneejerk reaction is probably to attack the intentions and character of the people on the other three lists. If you do, I believe you’re making a tragic mistake and unfairly questioning the motives of good people who want or wanted to make the world a better place for their fellow inhabitants.
The current political environment is making us all so partisan, cynical, and judgmental. We honestly can’t even fathom that people with policy views different than ours could have good intentions in their hearts. But for the sake of our discussion, I’m asking you to base it on the premise that there are good people of many different political beliefs who enter politics with the express intention of doing good. A radical concept, I understand.
Here’s where it breaks down…
The political system – the business of politics – is inherently corrupt. Even well-meaning people with goodwill in their hearts get stymied and neutralized by the big donors, Super PACs, and lobbyists. By the need to raise millions of dollars to run for Congress, tens of millions of dollars to run for Senate, and a billion dollars or more to run for president. Then it comes down to a very simple, but very sinister dynamic: You have one party in power that wants to remain in power, and one party out of power, desperate to regain power. The need to get elected or reelected distorts the system and creates cycles between the parties. But like a casino, the house (in this case, the business of politics) always holds the upper hand.
If you’re like me, you’re still hopeful, even idealistic. You believe if your party can just get enough control, the good people will prevail, and we’ll all live happily ever after. We make concessions, form alliances, and horse trade, hoping to get our policies enacted. That’s politics.
In a pandemic, politics kill people.
Politicians can’t help themselves. In a crisis like a pandemic, politics is all they know, so the try to politic their way out of it. Even well-meaning people believe the solution is to discredit the other parties, to bring more potential control for their own party. And that gets innocent people killed.
There is no time for politics at the moment. Not even time for finding blame. We have to stop the spread of the coronavirus before it kills more people unnecessarily. There will be plenty of time for that afterward and many politicians will be remembered for taking actions that were criminal, negligent, and unconscionable. But making time for that now is a distraction and distractions in a pandemic kill people.
There are four essential actions we must take now to stop the pandemic. They are:
Protect Healthcare Providers
When doctors, nurses, and technicians are in quarantine (or dying) the virus takes the upper hand and overwhelms the system. We need the worldwide equivalent of the Manhattan Project, dedicated to sourcing, producing, and allocating the necessary protective equipment to keep the caregivers giving care. We’re already very late on this. Hospitals will be overrun and some of our healthcare heroes will die. (And already have.) But we’ve got to jump on this to save as many of those caregivers as possible.
We can’t have states, local municipalities, and different federal departments competing for personal protective gear, ventilators, ECMO machines, and other vital supplies. The federal government in each country must single source and coordinate this function. (And what really needs to happen is a global coordination of all countries.) Every person heroically fighting to protect us – not just the doctors, nurses and techs, but the police, fire, EMTs, and the entire supply chain for delivery of essentials – has to know that they can do their job without taking dangerous and unacceptable risks.
We are in a horrific situation in this area right now. Foolish decisions have been made and preparation was negligent. But we don’t have time to discuss that now. We need every available public and private sector resource that can help here to contribute now.
Prudent Testing Protocol
As far as testing, we’ll never catch up here either. South Korea and a few other nations got it right, but it’s simply too late for the United States and most other countries already.
Don’t be distracted by press conferences touting how Company X will produce X number of tests on X date. There are at least six billion people around the world we need to be testing this week and we can’t do it. We. Can’t. Do. It. It will take months to produce those tests, let along distribute and conduct them. But that doesn’t mean we should give up. We do however, have to change our testing practices to be more effective and realistic.
The reason this virus is playing out much worse than previous viruses like SARS is the state of transmission. With SARS, most infection transmissions occurred when the patient was exceedingly (and obviously) sick. With COVID-19, a huge percentage of the infections are happening from asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic people. We do need to accelerate testing production as quickly as possible. But we have to be smart and realistic about what to do with those tests. We have to deploy them in ways that get the maximum benefits. First and foremost, protecting healthcare providers. Then using them in hot spots so we can isolate the infected people to prevent them from infecting others. There is promising data showing that the antibodies in the blood of recovered patients is helpful mitigating the symptoms of people with COVID-19. More and faster testing will allow us to know who those potential blood donors are.
I’ve been self-isolating for 18 days already. I get it, it sucks. But it’s the only proven deterrent to stopping more widespread infection right now. When you must go out for necessities or providing essential services, practice social distancing and wear a mask. Really.
The economic damage from these measures is horrendous. It has hammered my own income. But these measures are a hard price we must pay now to prevent worse harm, both financial and health-wise, later.
This is one of the areas where we can’t be a little bit pregnant. If you want to stop the infection from spreading exponentially, you have to employ the stay-at-home measures universally. There are people floating high risk/low risk and red zone/green zone plans that are foolish, unworkable, and dangerous. You do not need to be an epidemiologist to figure this out. All that is required is a smidgeon of common sense and an IQ of room temperature or above. If a red zone state or county that is locked down neighbors a green zone one – one where casinos, restaurants, and nightclubs are open – we know how humans are going to react. A patchwork approach to this will lengthen both the recession and the required shelter-at-home timeframe. And the number of people who die needlessly.
Fast Track Testing on Current Therapeutics
If someone created a perfect vaccine this morning, it still wouldn’t impact the chances of stopping the virus for anywhere from six to 18 months. We have to employ the previous three measures now and investigate the potential of existing drugs to mitigate the severity of the COVID-19 symptoms on the affected patients.
THIS IS NOT A CROWDSOURCING CAMPAIGN FOR THE GENERAL PUBLIC.
Politicians are going on talk shows and social media floating the names of individual drugs. Remember our central premise: Pandemic + Politics = Death. When irresponsible politicians spread these rumors, talk show hosts and bloggers repeat them, then people start sharing them on social media. Misinformation and partial information kills people. Let the trained health professionals perform the necessary tests and wait for their recommendations before you take, prescribe, or recommend any alternate drugs to anyone. People are literally dying right now because politicians and talk show hosts think they’re qualified to prescribe medicines.
The four actions above are how we can defeat the coronavirus. We need every person on earth to help further these four actions in any way they are capable of. And if the only option you have is sheltering at home, then simply do that. When you watch Town Halls, cable news programs, and your social media feed, please understand that conversation about everything else is a distraction.
Distractions kill people. We have to kill distractions.
I get it. You’re pissed off and you want the people who have hurt us held accountable. I’m probably as outraged as you are, probably more so. The lack of preparation, the delays in response, and the level of incompetence displayed by many of our political leaders presents so much malfeasance we’ll be debating it for a decade. But right now, that debate is a distraction.
I have a mother in her eighties who is terrified she is never going to see her children in person again. I have a compromised immune system and thousands of people who count on me for their livelihoods. I can’t afford distractions right now. And if you’re being honest with yourself, neither can you. None of us can.
We have to kill the distractions, focus on the four behaviors above, or the virus will keep killing more of us.
The world community is stepping up. Private enterprise is making huge gains in the areas of manufacturing needed equipment, developing testing, and working on vaccines. (Along with some brilliant people in the public sector.) People are sewing masks at home, looking out for their neighbors, shopping for elderly, practicing social distancing, and anything they can to help fight the virus. We just need to keep everybody focused on the four essential activities right now. With that focus we can reduce the loss of life, mitigate the worst consequences, and buy us valuable time to develop the vaccine.
We will beat back the virus and win this fight. But we have to focus and work together. Please share this message and keep everyone focused on the four essential actions. When you see me getting seduced by distractions, remind me too. We got this.