Published March 7, 2020
The fire hose of content coming from media and government agencies could be said to be more prevalent than the COVID-19 virus itself. And, for the most part, it has tended to focus on the most recent statistics of known infections and deaths. What I am not seeing much about is what I’m fearing most from this outbreak.
Many years ago, I was gifted several books and I read and thoroughly enjoyed them all. All, but one. “The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History,” written by John M. Barry in 2004, was a challenge to get through. Not only did I end up skipping the first third (mostly a detailed survey of the state of medical research and practices in the US versus Europe as I recall) and the rest of the book, for lack of a better phrase, freaked me out.
Yes, that influenza pandemic killed as many as 100 million people. Yes, nothing humans did resulted in the end of pandemic (the virus simply mutated itself to a less harmful form). Yes, we were at war and that was the media’s and governments’ focus so communication about health risks and subsequent impacts were either missing or untrue for the most part (what we are seeing today is happily quite to the contrary). Yes, yes, yes, it was a mortal tragedy for so many but that wasn’t what got to me.
What struck me was the result of so many being unable to perform their needed duties in society and that occurring all at once. They became bed-ridden, or at the least required staying home to care for themselves and/or others and to isolate themselves to protect the rest of their community and coworkers.
Some would be unproductive for days while others were “out of service” for weeks. But when large numbers of workers, that we otherwise take for granted, suddenly are unable to tend to garbage pickup, water and sewer operations and repairs, etc. these things we count on start not working. Consider the impacts from a dramatic reduction in available first-responders, medical care facility staff, mail carriers and power line repair crews, to name a few.
Much of today’s economy is based on just-in-time inventory management. This means that disruptions in production and distribution can be seen resulting in fewer choices on store shelves. This was quickly demonstrated in China after COVID-19 was detected there in December. Many manufacturers reported severe drops in production and/or closings due to sick employees as well as those fearful of becoming infected at work.
Then, as could be expected, shipping ports have begun reporting a reduction in container ship traffic. A terminal operator in Baltimore was quoted as saying, “… the disruptions in the global supply chain as a result of the Coronavirus outbreak are significant and unprecedented.”
In addition, businesses that rely on many people being present in the same space are going to be impacted. Restaurants, theaters, grocery and retail stores, banks, offices, manufacturers and even medical care facilities should be preparing if not already deploying strategies for dealing with this possibility.
On a more personal level, consider what would need to be done in the event of school, daycare and place of employment closures.
I hope readers do not take this as fear-mongering. I put these possibilities out there because it hurts/costs more not to have a plan-B ready than to have one and not need to use it.
The University of Washington recently announced they were deploying a plan-B strategy in the face of an outbreak in King County. All classes will be conducted online for the remainder of the quarter thus eliminating the need for students and instructors to gather daily in classrooms.
The aforementioned overwhelming amount of communication about COVID-19 is in stark contrast to the coverage for Influenza A and B that continues to make seasonal appearances even though immunizations are available and widely deployed. This season, for example, the “CDC estimates that so far this season there have been at least 34 million flu illnesses, 350,000 hospitalizations and 20,000 deaths from flu.”
I hope the increased communication around COVID-19 will at least be a motivator toward changes in routines and spur preparations for what may come (creating a plan-B). But I also cannot help but fear this constant droning will eventually fall out of favor with audiences and, as always seems to happen, news publishers will return to publishing junk food content people want to read instead of nutritious content they need.
Quoting from the Afterword in “The Great Inluenza,”
There was terror afoot in 1918. … The media and public officials helped create that terror – not by exaggerating the disease but by minimizing it, in their attempts to reassure the public. …The public could trust nothing and so they knew nothing.
NOTE: As the publisher of My Ferndale News I make an effort to avoid injecting my opinions and beliefs into MFN stories. Frankly, I do not see myself as smart or wise enough to pull that off with any real benefit to you, dear reader. Hopefully you have noticed and appreciate that. But this seemed like the right time to provide a differing perspective that some may benefit from. I hope it is.
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