September 22, 2020

Emerging Truths

By Stephen Tuttle | Aug. 8, 2020

It's been nearly seven months of COVID-19, and we're still struggling just to slow it down. It has disrupted lives, destroyed businesses and the jobs that went with them, putting 40 million Americans out of work. Children have been out of class for more than twice as long as a normal summer break, putting enormous pressure on parents, teachers, and schools. It has increased mental health issues and forced some people to forego medical appointments they needed. We're struggling, but some truths have emerged.   

This is much, much worse than the seasonal flu.
With 5 million cases and nearly 160,000 deaths, this will end up being 8 to 10 times more deadly than seasonal flu, and with far more destructive side effects. Even some people who had minor symptoms are being afflicted with ongoing kidney, liver, neurological, or respiratory issues. And we don't yet know why. We don't even know how long the antibodies developed by infected people will be effective, putting in doubt the long-term effectiveness of a vaccine. 

We need a national health emergency plan.
The patchwork quilt of rules and regulations that change from state to state — and even county to county or city to city — have not worked. A coherent, consistent, fact-based national policy to address a national emergency would help. Local restrictions are pointless when adjacent localities have none; we might as well be trying to stop the wind. With ever more people in ever-denser giant cities, rapid transmission of every new bug is inevitable. International travel makes the problem global, so there will be more pandemics. A plan that includes a strong supply chain is a necessity. Surely, we have some kind of national preparedness plans for something like a war, don't we?

Our healthcare system is overly reliant on foreign manufacturers.
Nearly half of medical personal protective equipment (PPE) comes from China, including 70 percent of N95 masks. Even worse, 80 percent of the active ingredients in our prescription drugs are manufactured in China, India, or elsewhere. Our reliance on the rest of the world for equipment and medicine is a serious national security issue. Both Joe Biden and Donald Trump have suggested plans to help alleviate the problem; it should go to the top of their priority list.

We've replaced science with politics.
A virus that sickens and kills Republicans and Democrats with equal ferocity should never have been politicized. If there was ever a time when Congress and the White House should have worked together, this was it. They did not. Even now, neither Congress nor the White House has offered any reasonable plan to get this bug slowed down. Handing out money, necessary as it might be, is a poor substitute for the national leadership we need. 

We have a distorted sense of our “rights.”
No, it is not our right to ignore governor's orders, which have the force of law, during a declared state of emergency. No, it's not our right to endanger others by refusing to wear face coverings or obey social distancing guidelines. No, there is no such thing as a “sovereign citizen” who doesn't have to obey any laws. Wearing a face covering might be the simplest thing we've ever been asked to do in an emergency, and we know it would absolutely slow down transmissions. Still, there are those who believe it is their right to infect the rest of us. It's ignorant and dangerous and nobody's “right.”

We rely on others to care for our children.
This isn't new, but it's been greatly magnified during the novel coronavirus outbreak. Nearly a third of U.S. households with children are now led by a single parent, overwhelmingly a woman. Now they're caught trying to work from home while also being home-school teachers. Even worse, there is a national shortage of day care availability, and costs have skyrocketed. If these parents are recalled to work, and there's no in-person school and no daycare, they're stuck. About half of the western democracies provide free day care or some kind of subsidy for parents. We need a better day-care system.  

Some people really will risk their lives for us.
Since this began, some 600 U.S. frontline doctors, healthcare workers, and primary care physicians have died from COVID-19. Thousands more have been infected, all doing their best to save us. At least 82 grocery store employees have died, and 11,500 have been infected just stocking shelves or working the checkout so we can have some food and necessities. Add to that sad list more than 100 police officers and about 50 paramedic/firefighters who contracted the illness while serving and protecting the rest of us.  

The bug is still loose among us. Congress squabbles over money, and the president tweets and plays golf. Neither offer solutions. We should demand better. 


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