Even a Stopped Clock
…is right twice a day. *
Many years ago, the US Marine Corps decided to collect DNA swabs from all their marines. Two young marines filed a lawsuit, alleging that there were inadequate precautions in place to safeguard this sensitive data, and were no guidelines or controls on how the information would be used.
Now these men and their families were proto-Qanon members, certified tin foil hat wearers who referenced vague, but widespread conspiracy theories in their complaints to the media.
But the thing is, they were right.
The data was being collected without safeguards or limits on use, and they did get a court ruling in their favor.
Why is relevant today? Because most of the push back on the (admittedly of dubious efficacy) attempts to control virus spread by our government entities is often coming from a delusional place. Churches sue, because apparently their members believe that a virus favors their particular denomination. White males refuse to wear masks because, well, it’s hard to think of any reason, except maybe toxic masculinity, and protesters believe that if their cause is just, then somehow it’s okay to gather in large crowds and scream slogans in each other’s faces.
As an aside, it goes both ways. Support for restrictions is also often coming from a delusional place. People who routinely congregate in the break room at work without any social distancing or masks, and remove their masks at work at every opportunity will say, “it must be done,” when widespread lockdowns on public spaces are put in place. They are happy to go to the gym, or the hairdresser, but rail against people going to the beach, despite the fact that nobody ever gets within six feet of a stranger on a beach, and the open air makes transmission much more unlikely than in an enclosed store.
So, again, how does this relate to those marines in the first paragraph? Simply that although their actual reasoning was suspect, the underlying principle was important: their rights were being violated. They were being asked to do something invasive of their persons without any designed safeguards or boundaries in place. And similarly, even though a lot of pushback on our public officials coronavirus response comes from delusional thinking and selfishness, the underlying principle of needing to protect our rights is still sound.
Right now, does anyone of any political stripe think our public officials/government response to infectious disease was well-planned, scientifically based, or even rational? In Hawaii last week the government responded to an increase in “cases” which were mostly due to the Oahu jail and private parties by closing the parks and beaches. They had no evidence that parks and beaches were linked to any significant spread, and when asked, just replied to questions with “Well we heard some people who tested positive say they had been to the beach.” You can probably think of plenty of examples of what you consider over reaction, under reaction or misdirected activity in your area as well. Sometimes the restrictions or lack thereof seem more linked to what those in power want to do (golf courses and restaurants are open) versus what they don’t want to do (salons and workout classes are closed.)
In the United States we have a bad habit of succumbing to panic and anxiety over whatever threat is being hyped: for example; juvenile delinquents, comic books, anarchists, Catholics, obesity, “sex trafficking,” opiates, satanic cults, terrorists, pedophiles, teen runaways, communists, and now viruses. We then sell our rights for a mess of potage, that is, quick fix legislation, and security theater.
And the worst part of it: the potage is rotten and we can’t eat it. The quick fixes, the politically motivated measures, and the security theater erode our rights AND they don’t help the problem they were supposed to address. And that’s bad too, because sometimes the problem is actually a problem.
Therefore, to be clear, we are not necessarily advocating that the United States do nothing about infectious disease threats. You&Me is on record as calling out the US for our shameful non-response to the influenza panepidemic we experience every year.
However, we are advocating for a response that is based on actual research and review. A response that is centrally and rationally based, and not placed in the hands of thousands of random people with no background in any kind of medicine or research. A response that first identifies what an untreated wave of infection would look like, and then examines every possible response and selects the ones proven to be most effective. A response with rationale goals, i.e., to flatten a curve to prevent overwhelming the health care system in an area, and reduce excess mortality rather than turning the goal into a histrionic purity narrative where they are never supposed to be any cases.
The US got lucky this time. “Coronavirus” is actually a very mild virus. About 90 percent of people who are infected won’t even know it because it is so benign. (As another aside, in the future will we acknowledge that we destroyed our economy over what is essentially a bad cold unless you are already very sick or over 75, or will there be an “emperor’s new clothes” situation where everyone will pretend this was some super deadly threat and it was all necessary? Three guesses and the first two don’t count.) We may not be so lucky next time. As we have said before, the government severely downplayed Ebola back in Obama’s day, and now we know why. But Ebola has the same “R number” as coronavirus and spreads the same way. The only difference is that it kills 70-90% of the people that get it, and will usually require an ICU stay to survive. We need to be really ready next time.
So to finish: a list of what needs to happen.
1.Research to identify the natural course of epidemic illnesses so we have a benchmark to see how well various interventions work.
2.Careful review of worldwide responses to this virus and other infections to identify which interventions were the most effective.
3.Defining regions in the country (not necessarily whole states) and identifying the medical and social resources available in each region and setting manageable disease burden goals for each region. The goal must be realistic. No respiratory viral illness ever is not a reasonable goal, unfortunately.
4.Defining stepwise interventions to be implemented when and only when certain benchmarks are met. Also, benchmarks should be identified for when and only when the interventions should be removed. Interventions must be research based, rather than our current system of fear and political expediency. No "theater" where beaches are closed but construction sites full of maskless guys are still operational. No closing bars, but allowing funerals, and so on.
5.Identifying at risk populations that may need enhanced interventions as well. For example; the elderly in nursing homes. Such interventions should only applied where heightened risk exists. If people at high risk elect to refuse such interventions, they should be the ones responsible for assuming such risks. For example, if an 80-year-old wanted to attend a college basketball game, they might sign a waiver, rather than the entire season being canceled.
*before smart watches and computers, time was kept on mechanical devices that had space for 12 numbers on a round surface area, known as a face, representing 12 hours. There were two “hands,” pointers that were designed to show the minutes and hours, that indicated what time it currently was. These devices had to be wound or plugged in to work, and if they stopped or broke, the “hands” would freeze at a certain time. Therefore, twice a day (am and pm) the stopped clock showed perfect time.