When news first broke of the global outbreak of the coronavirus (or COVID-19 as the “in-crowd” calls it) and epidemiologists announced that incessant handwashing and social isolation were the most effective means of combating it’s spread – I immediately thought: Hot Damn!
Because that just about sums up my day-to-day life here at Barker’s View HQ. . .
As some of you know, for many years I’ve suffered a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder which manifests in weird rituals – turning off lights in a specific order when I leave a room, avoiding certain colors, the constant use of hand sanitizer, shunning buffets, etc. – a malady that has rendered me the ultimate ‘germaphobe,’ gripped by the irrational fear of being contaminated by germs, bacteria and viruses.
So, I know how many of you feel as the national news media creates hype and hysteria 24/7 – and every roll of toilet paper in the most advanced nation in the world continues to vanish from the shelves (I still don’t get the correlation, but, whatever).
Earlier this week, public health officials confirmed our worst fears, reporting that two of our neighbors from ‘somewhere’ in Volusia County tested positive for the virus following international travel and are currently in isolation.
In my view, the Volusia County Health Department – and its bosses in Tallahassee – made a grave error when they decided to stop answering questions from the public like, “What city did the person live in,” citing vague privacy laws and state declarations that permit only the age, gender and county in which an infected person lives to be released.
At a time when a lack of governmental transparency, coupled with the around-the-clock gibberish we’re being subjected to, exacerbates the fear and anxiety that is spreading faster than the virus itself – perhaps the “let’s play things close to the vest so we can avoid criticism” policy should be reevaluated?
I don’t need some goofy doctor-who-plays-a-doctor-on-TV to show me how to wash my hands – or a local news anchor demonstrating how to brew gallons of homemade hand sanitizer in my bathtub – but it might be helpful to have the information necessary to evaluate my exposure risk based upon my proximity to an identified community infection, right?
In my experience, local and state government should prepare in advance by developing effective policies for containing emergencies to the extent humanly possible – while limiting widespread panic through the dissemination of topical information.
These public information protocols should be made and exercised during periods of calm, before a potential epidemic is at hand – rather than ham-handedly mandated from on high once the public starts asking the hard questions. . .
That includes determining what information and directions will be most beneficial to preventing the spread of disease and permit citizens to make informed decisions outside the media-hyped hysteria of the moment.
For instance, earlier this week, during a meeting of our exalted Knights of the Roundtable – a political insulation committee formed of area managers and mayors – Volusia County Health Department Administrator Patricia Boswell provided a cursory briefing to our collective brain trust on the spread of the coronavirus.
According to an informative report in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, when a representative from Congressman Michael Waltz’ office asked Ms. Boswell several legitimate questions like, “…how many tests will be commercially available locally, how long testing actually takes and whether health officials have a ‘definition of quarantine,” Boswell said she didn’t know.
And, in the interest of constituent confidence, perhaps Rep. Waltz should be getting his information from a little further up the public health totem pole than Patricia Boswell. . .
In addition, Volusia County Councilman Ben Johnson was quoted as saying, “What’s sad about the coronavirus is there’s so little information on it.”
I hate to disagree with Mr. Johnson, but that’s just not correct.
There is a ton of solid information being produced by reputable, vetted, scientific open sources on all aspects of the novel coronavirus.
Unfortunately, much of it is being blocked by ridiculous “patient confidentiality” concerns – held by public health sources who are more concerned with covering their ass than informing the public – or lost in the hell-broth of misinformation and overreaction by the media and other “official” sources who have whipped this situation into a frenzy.
During my long career in public service, I immersed myself in the art and science of “Emergency Management” – which required many hours of training at FEMA’s National Emergency Management Training Center, participation in exercises, extensive on-line coursework, developing effective best practices, serving in command positions during emergencies and building a portfolio of actual disaster management experience – all culminating in a peer reviewed compilation of my training and experience.
Ultimately, I earned the Florida Professional Emergency Manager credential from the Florida Emergency Preparedness Association – which has become a requisite for preparing for, and responding to, the many hazards coastal communities face.
The one thing I learned during that extensive process is, when dealing with potential pandemics, “panic will always travel faster than the pathogen” – and it’s easy to succumb to the misinformation overload we are receiving from pseudo-experts and televised talking heads intent on using this crisis to increase advertising revenue, or worse, to politicize the issue.
Make no mistake, “panic” is a very effective marketing tool.
It sells everything from massive quantities of Purell, hand soaps, bleach, unguents, ointments, snake oil, bottled water – and toilet paper. . .
Some believe this panic buying provides us with a feeling of “control” – a sense that we are “doing something” to be proactive in the lead-up to a potential threat we have little, if any, influence over.
In my view, it is important to keep the coronavirus outbreak in perspective – including the fact that 80% of the people infected experience mild to moderate symptoms – and many epidemiologists believe that, based upon Farr’s Law of Epidemics (look it up), the spread of COVID-19 will increase and decrease in a predictable pattern – similar to a bell-shaped curve (just like any normal flu season) – and the rate of infection may hit its peak and start falling relatively soon.
In other words, “This too shall pass.”
And we’ve seen worse, believe me.
During the 2017-2018 flu season alone, millions of Americans were infected with influenza and resultant respiratory issues – and some 80,000 died from complications – yet, I don’t recall the National Guard being mobilized, event cancellations, prohibiting fans from attending sporting events, shutting down schools, banning audiences from televised game shows (?), a run on toilet tissue or the near complete collapse of the strongest markets and exchanges in the world.
That doesn’t mean we should take the threat lightly, and those with compromised immune systems, underlying health problems, such as diabetes, hypertension and respiratory ailments, and the elderly, remain particularly susceptible to serious complications.
I suspect you know that already. . .
Look, I’m no expert in the prevention and treatment of community acquired disease – hell, I’m still fighting a pitched battle with toenail fungus that I picked up in an Army field shower in 1979 – but I’m also confident this isn’t the Andromeda Strain.
I also know that panic and hysteria have never solved anything.
So, here are some commonsense suggestions for protecting yourself and your family during these anxious times:
Plan ahead and be ready – not just for coronavirus – but for all hazards.
Learn about emergency and continuity of operation plans at your place of employment – and your child’s school (if they have one?)
Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20-seconds.
Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily in household common areas.
Avoid travel to places with a high incidence of coronavirus – and listen to the warnings and suggestions of the Centers for Disease Control for the latest on how best to protect from this illness.
Like Winston Churchill boldly said – “We have nothing to fear but eventually eyeing the drapes when the toilet paper runs out,” or something like that. . .
Be cool, people. Take care of yourselves and those who count on you.
Let’s get through this together.