Last week saw the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. With a change in administration comes an entirely new set of priorities in everything including Covid relief, health care, climate change, the economy, racism / racist policy, and international relations to name a few. As if these challenges weren’t already systemic and complex, it is unclear is how we will move forward, out of the cloud of disinformation and extremism. Problems like these require a proactive approach but in order to be proactive we need accurate and defensible information. Our interdependence… call it shared fate, requires unity and a willingness to cooperate in the face of these extreme problems. Will we face these problems united?
“…without unity there is no peace, only bitterness and fury, no progress, only exhausting outrage, no nation, only a state of chaos. This is our historic moment of crisis and challenge. And unity is the path forward. Hear me clearly: Disagreement must not lead to disunion.“
Joe Biden – Inauguration on Jan 20, 2021
As I watched the swearing in and listened to the speakers, ministers, singers and poets I am encouraged to believe that we can repair the damage; damage in our confidence, in our institutions and in each other. Harris and Biden have the knowledge and skills in government that can help us repair the damage to agencies and their dedicated staff but they cannot succeed without the will of us all. I hope our representatives find consensus within the opposition, a willingness to rally resources that serve the needs of ALL people. People want to work, feed and support themselves and their families. But right now they need help. Better to put out immediate fires of the economy than let them build and consume it to the point of no return.
There are already questions about what and how the legislative agenda will be organized. How will the Biden administration balance a progressive agenda with mainstream agendas? How will they develop support from the ranks of Republicans; especially those that want to continue the assault on anything “democratic”. Acknowledging that a significant number of people question the legitimacy of the election, we need to find a way to restore faith in our government. What started as a “Tea Party”, questioning the need for taxes, has grown into a movement with a range of demands, roots in alternative facts*, not to mention name calling and disrespect. We need to understand the source of this dissatisfaction while we dispel lies.
Now that the incessant messages of the Trump administration have been quieted, it will be interesting to see how “alternative facts” are promoted. While there is no such thing as an alternative fact, it is essential that we practice and teach ourselves methods for separating fact from fiction.
In the early days of the Internet I considered digital literacy an important skill for children in our school district. At the time it seemed like a good idea. Now I would say it is a matter of survival. Without this basic skill, the long term survival of democracy, not to mention our health, is at risk. We need look no further than the misinformation that has been spread alongside the spread of Covid-19. If people can be led astray on something as essential as their personal health, then anything seems possible. Digital literacy isn’t about telling people what to believe, but giving them tools to separate opinion from fact and fact from fiction.
“Alternative facts” was a phrase used by U.S. Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway during a Meet the Press interview on January 22, 2017, in which she defended White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s false statement about the attendance numbers of Donald Trump’s inauguration as President of the United States. When pressed during the interview with Chuck Todd to explain why Spicer would “utter a provable falsehood”, Conway stated that Spicer was giving “alternative facts”. Todd responded, “Look, alternative facts are not facts. They’re falsehoods.” – Wikipedia
It is impossible to grasp the myriad ways that people are sheltering and we’re just getting started. Yesterday I attended my sister-in-laws birthday party via Zoom. There were less than 10 of us and we represented at least 5 different towns, 3 different time zones. Listening to their stories, I realized how different our realities are. Shaped by climate, housing, family configuration, and the state and town we live in, each of us have a different way, a different perspective of sheltering. Though we were pretty much in agreement that sheltering is a necessary action, I sensed that there were variations in what we considered safe. The variations weren’t extreme but very present.
I have a brother in Missouri who has sheltered with both of his 2 adult children and their 4 children. With 2 houses on adjacent property and lots of acreage, one daughter has temporarily moved in to their home with her son. The other daughter lives in a house 100 yards across the field with her husband, daughter and 2 sons. In the weeks since sheltering began in their state and town, they have remained on the land and had the benefit (and the sacrifices) of close contact with only each other. They have home schooled the children, some have worked remotely and one has worked outside the home in an essential and solitary workplace. They have done shopping as needed but generally have kept to themselves. They express their gratitude that they are able to have this time together, even though it is under some duress.
My mother on the other hand is sheltered alone. From the last week in March to the present, she has left her home only once to shop. She has had her groceries delivered by the store or one of my brothers and has kept in touch with us via voice and video conversations. I am very thankful that, at 89, she has the skills and a sharp mind for negotiating her computer and phone. Living over 800 miles from her, the Internet is a precious gift for connecting with her. She seems to keep herself busy with reading books, playing games on her computer, watching television, reading Facebook and the news. Through it all she stays connected with the family and the world. In some ways her life hasn’t changed too much for her, thought she misses the periodic physical contact she used to have with children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
As some states reopen and loosen safe at home living, our style of interaction will vary even more. While we can read what the recommendations are and have experienced some safe social engagement in the course of these weeks, we are still trying to establish our level of comfort and consequently our behavior. Joni and I have engaged in several video chats with friends and family and it seems that there is a subtle debate and negotiation in our conversations about what we’ve heard, read; about what is allowed and what is safe. If this is true of like-minded friends and family one can only assume that there is even greater diversity of thought in other communities and groups. At the extreme are people, a small but vocal minority, who still consider infection to be a hoax and you have a lot of room for confusion.
What did you hear about parks being open? Can you hike? Can you camp?
Can we cross state and county lines? What happens when we do? Can they stop us?
Can I get my bike fixed?
How do I tell someone to give me space? How do I deal with their anger (and language) when I do?
How sick do I need to be to get a test? Is an antibody test more available? Is it just as good? How reliable are the tests? Can I feel safe if I have the antibodies?
How can I be sure that people who work at my house conduct themselves safely?
Should I allow people to pet my dog?
If my friend and I have both been in isolation for weeks, can we safely gather? Should we still maintain 6 feet? With or without face masks? Can I go in their house?
These and other questions will get answered over the summer and into the fall and winter as we line up our social behavior with the change in infection rates. Hopefully we will have the tests that are reliable and accessible to measure our progress. Hopefully people will choose health over money, finding ways to bring commerce and comfort back without sacrificing their community.
Plans for ending shelter in place are moving forward. Counties, cities, and states have announced new rules for public engagement with the goal of allowing people greater freedom of movement, small group gathering, and the resumption of services and retail business. The most restrictive plans are detailed by organization and require that people follow particular guidelines for reopening service and business. The variety of approaches are varied and sometimes difficult to follow but some news sources are trying to maintain updated status for all the 50 states.
Here in Colorado our governor has announced a second stage strategy for increasing movement while trying to keep the lid on Covid-19 infection. In his afternoon press conference today (April 27) he repeatedly said, “if we as a state slack off on social distancing measures and other ways to prevent the spread of the virus, additional restrictions could come back. It is up to us to keep moving towards fewer restrictions.” This warning is the governor’s attempt to motivate Coloradan’s even as experts are short on testing data; a shortage of information regarding infection of asymptomatic individuals (infected but not showing symptoms). Today the governor intends to address testing in particular. The worry is that we will move to Stage 3 of the plan before we have valid data.
The details of the new restrictions are not simply recommendations but directives for conducting business safely. Polis made it clear that the state has always maintained health guidelines for business and would continue to through this crisis.
If that’s what they are doing [ignoring state restrictions], then that is unsafe for the residents of Weld County, which has one of the highest per capita rates of COVID-19 in the state, and we will absolutely use every mechanism we have including they will forego their own eligibility for emergency funds. Those businesses could lose their license to operate under the state if they’re state-licensed businesses.
Jared Polis Newsconference – April 27, 2020
The threat of these consequences may not be as easy to apply as they sound. Weld County has already received their emergency funds so that cow has left the barn. But businesses should be careful not to risk their license as well as their reputation and concern for public safety. The consequences may be their end. I predict that businesses will do all they can to advertise and maintain the steps they take to protect customers if they are going to survive. Hilton Hotels have already begun.
While the variety of restrictions and recommendations that are streaming from various jurisdictions may seem confusing and contradictory, they can be boiled down to a few common sense reminders for most of us:
Under age 65. Stay at home unless you have something essential do. This includes food or home maintenance shopping, exercise, work, medical or other essential activity.
Over 65. Stay safe at home. Ask for help in getting essential supplies.
Carry a mask with you if you leave the house.
Maintain 6 foot distance whenever possible.
Put mask on when you cannot maitain 6 foot distance.
These 6 reminders will contribute to your health and the health of those around you. I expect they will become a part of our daily living and common courtesy into the next few years. Settle in, practice and these actions will become second nature.
The march to flatten the curve of Covid-19 infection continues with the inevitable twists and turns of human denial, bargaining, acceptance and adaptation. Sometimes it feels like progress, as though we are getting a handle on the disease and it’s many complications for living. At other times it feels hopeless, as though it will never end. We aren’t accustomed to being inconvenienced here in the US, even for an hour. We are like children in the car on family vacation, whining “Are we there yet!?”. The problem is, there are many stops along the way to a cure (18 months at the earliest). The stops; infection testing, antibody testing, symptom monitoring, social distancing and inoculation are coming slower and with more sacrifice than we would like. When we “get there”, the landscape, how we behave, how we structure public gatherings and how we plan our life will be very different.
Deny Science? at your own peril
The accommodations we make will be a negotiation between our desires/impulses/comfort/ideals and what promotes health for all. The balance is being negotiated in the courts and on the streets of America as I write. While healthy behavior is respected by 60-70% of the population, a minority feels that health and safety should not be the primary goal. In the courts, the right of people to assemble in church is being argued. Do people have the right to assemble for church if the assembly is contrary to public health? Some church leaders are arguing that if people can take a walk in the park, go to the grocery and hardware store, they should have the right to attend church services. They assert that states simply have no right to restrict their right to worship as they choose. They are ignoring the difference between the close assembly of a church and the open air, low density assembly in a park.
At state capitals people are protesting restrictions in movement. The motivation for the protests are diverse. Some decry the loss of jobs, business and income. Some simply don’t think the government has the right to make them isolate. Last week, stay-at-home protests took place in California, Michigan, Kentucky, Minnesota, Virginia, Utah, North Carolina and Ohio. On Sunday five other state including Colorado, Florida, Tennessee, Illinois, California, and Washington capitals saw protests. These protests are heavily represented by Trump supporters who have been emboldened by his calls to “liberate” their states from excessive stay-at-home orders. With news coverage as it is, this allows him to cover all the bases with his schizophrenic message. I digress…
There are no precedents for restricting people’s movement in the law. Does that mean that it shouldn’t be done – for the safety and long term security of our people and the economy.
A sustained, gradually modified, stay-at-home (SAH) effort. Modifying the SAH orders in accordance with infection data will increase the chances that new outbreaks will not occur. We need time to put other precautions (listed) in place. Republican and Democratic governors agree that their states still don’t have adequate supplies to respond comprehensively despite the presidents denials to the contrary. Our health cannot be driven by politics.
Continued social distancing when you leave home. The 6 foot distance does not lend itself to sporting events, concerts, rallys, traditional church services and other large gatherings. The risk is greater when people sing, shout, exchanging fluids in the process.
Tracking symptoms. While comprehensive testing of our population would be the ideal, tracking symptoms on a wide scale is necessary to understand the pattern of outbreaks.
Reliable testing. The fact that people can be infected and infectious without symptoms, means that testing is crucial. We need to double or triple the current level of testing.
Preparation for outbreaks. Our hospitals need to be outfitted with adequate supplies and space to respond quickly and safely to new outbreaks.
These precautions are accepted by public health experts, including the presidents advisors (and periodically by the president himself). And yet these precautions are white-washed by a very vocal albeit minority of opposition. Personally, I get lost trying to understand the motivation of people who deny these difficult but simple facts. I understand that the loss of income is devastating and motivates denial and rebellion. None of us want to stay home but we have to forgo our short term satisfaction for long term gain. What can be done?
Finding our way
The precautions (restrictions if you please) are non-negotiable. The sooner we face and enact them the faster we will recover our health and our economy. The question is not what but how can we negotiate our behavior within the boundaries of the restrictions. There are many examples of people doing just that. I submit that the energy of protests would be better spent figuring out how to work within these restrictions rather than railing against them. Here’s a short list:
Drive through – a truly American tradition. Since the advent of the automobile, people have found innovative ways to use their cars to eat, drink, watch movies, worship, marry, and procreate. In the throws of the pandemic we have added to the list of uses to get tested, check symptoms, “congregate” and pray,order take out food, and simply get out of the house. True, we have been asked to reign in the distance we travel, but this too will pass.
Shopping with distance and masks – While much is made about restricting our right to buy some products, shopping will slowly return as infection decreases. The face of shopping will (literally) change into the foreseeable future. I’m happy to see that all our stores in Colorado are enforcing masks with signs
Church assembly online and parking lots. It is difficult for me to feel sorry for people who complain that their right to worship is being denied. First of all, church is not a place or destination, but a state of heart and mind. The physical contact is important but must be weighed against the damage we may do to our community at large. Even if you disagree with my perspective on the meaning of church, suffice it to say that when we turn the corner on infection, this restriction will be modified. Until then, gather online, in cars, on the phone. Find support, communion, fellowship in any creative way you can. Many people are doing it across denominations, faiths and locals.
Have a PowerPoint party: Each participant makes a presentation about a topic they’re passionate about and then presents it.
Write a pen-and-paper letter. The postal system is still working, and there’s a certain charm to getting a letter in the mail.
Have a cocktail party over video — you won’t have to get a ride home afterward.
Start a book club over video or email.
Livestream on apps like Facebook to read books or tell stories to kids. Your friends who are parents will thank you!
Learn a new skill with friends. Crochet or paint watercolors together.
If you’re musically inclined, hold a virtual jam session.
Right to Liberty is a right to Health
The right to liberty is the foundation of our country as stated in the 14 Amendment:
No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Acknowledging this, our (temporary and validated) restrictions on movement are at the foundation of life and liberty for without taking these measures, our states would be abdicating their responsibility for insuring both life and liberty. I realize that this is beside the point for people who are simply looking for a fight. That’s another story.
It is impossible to grasp all of the ways in which the pandemic is changing our way of life around the world. While most of the news coverage tracks the spread and death toll and the national/state government response to the virus, there is news on the efforts of local government, schools, business, and individuals to mobilize, survive and thrive in this new world.
Innovations in this time of disruption are inspired by our impulse to meet some basic human needs. We are searching for solutions; for our safety and security, our sense of belonging, agency (power), and expression (attention) to name a few. As with any innovation, some will be a flash in the pan, some will endure, evolve and be adapted into the fabric of our society. They are aimed at some basic need we have.
Safety and security
The need for safety and security is inescapable right now. The threat of infection and death, loss of loved ones, loss of our livelihood, and our entire way of life has us in it’s grip. While we stay at home, we search for new antidotes to our insecurity. This time of isolation has been a source of inspiration and reflection to some while it has led others to act out in protest, fearing the loss of livelihood more than death.
Following are a few examples of innovations inspired by our need for safety:
One development towards safety has been directed at an early warning system that is familiar to us all, the use of thermometers. By checking our temperature before we enter public locations and checking and sharing personal rises in temperature as they happen we may create a more effective safety net by identifying the pattern of infection.
Kinsa Health debuted it’s internet-connected thermometers eight years ago to track flu. The data the company is uploading for free to government and research scientists is helping pinpoint both where the next outbreak might occur and which communities are flattening the curve. They’re also proving that social distancing is working. – Here and Now – April 9, 2020
How many tests do we need to feel safe? Labs around the world and in the US are exploring new methods for testing people suspected of infection. Some of these methods will evolve into new standards while some will prove inaccurate or impractical. Hospitals have adapted new ways of administering tests in an effort to reduce exposure by creating drive through testing. At the same time scientists are trying to lower barriers to testing. While supplies and personnel continue to be in too short supply, lacking a national effort at distribution, we must increase testing in order to feel safe to interact.
An average of 145,000 tests a day were carried out over the past week nationwide, or about a million a week, according to the COVID Tracking Project. Experts disagree about how many tests would be required to get a handle on the outbreak, but even the most conservative recommendations from former officials like Scott Gottlieb — head of the Food and Drug Administration until last year — call for at least doubling the current level of testing now and tripling it by the fall.
While we continue to struggle with the necessary components of tests in the critical short run, researchers are moving forward with innovations that address the long term. Home tests are one of the approaches. While home tests run the risk of false positives due to contamination, there is an effort to improve them.
Saliva tests. A “Rutgers University scientist who oversaw the development of a saliva test to detect coronavirus said he believes this new way to collect patient samples could serve as a bridge to widespread national testing — modeled off the kits used by familiar commercial genealogical brands like Ancestry.com and 23 and Me.” – ABC News – April 16, 2020
Antibody testing. These tests determine if a person has had the virus and carries antibodies that protect them. A team in the UK is working on a home antibody test kit. A team in California has an antibody test that is administered in the lab. They hope to “expand manufacturing of its new coronavirus antibody test for use by the public within two months.” The same story describes other antibody tests under development…
Only one [antibody] test, produced by the Research Triangle Park, N.C., company Cellex, is already approved and being rolled out for use in select groups. Two others are awaiting FDA approval. One is from Aytu Biosciences/Orient Gene Biotech; the other is ScanWell Health/INNOVITA.
Six other tests have been approved in the U.S., but they are only for research or surveillance purposes. Other tests are still in development.
Five antibody tests have been approved for use in China. In addition, one is approved in Singapore and one in Korea.
The success of re-opening our economy will depend on our ongoing success at containment. One essential component will be the ability to track person-person contact when an infected person is identified. Tracing these associations and contacting and supporting people with information and resources will be essential to providing a safety net for movement.
Last night I searched for a job as a Tracer and found this information in the job description:
Contact Tracers will use a web-based client resource management (CRM) platform to reach out to contacts of patients diagnosed with COVID-19 with the goal of documenting a symptom check; referring contacts for testing according to established protocols; and providing them w/ quarantine guidelines
Human tracing can be augmented by technology that helps an infected person remember and report contacts they have had. Here are a couple different approaches.
Tim Brookins, a Microsoft engineer in Fargo, tweaked the Bison Tracker to build Care-19, an anonymous location tracker. It had more than 10,000 downloads in its first 36 hours.
The app can serve as a record for people to remind them where they’ve been if they test positive, and to alert them to possible contacts with infected people. They can choose to share information with state health workers.
Google and Apple have announced a joint effort to enable the use of Bluetooth technology to help governments and health agencies reduce the spread of the virus, with user privacy and security central to the design.
The system uses on-board radios on your device to transmit an anonymous ID over short ranges — using Bluetooth beaconing. Servers relay your last 14 days of rotating IDs to other devices, which search for a match. A match is determined based on a threshold of time spent and distance maintained between two devices.
If a match is found with another user that has told the system that they have tested positive, you are notified and can take steps to be tested and to self-quarantine.
As I continue to read about innovations, I intend to share them in the context of how they derive from and serve our most basic needs. While our instinct to meet these needs is active even in good times, the pandemic has us on high alert. We have to find new ways to meet familiar needs. Behavior is goal oriented. We act in order to fulfill our needs; sometimes for social good, sometimes for our selfish satisfaction. Sometimes pro-actively and sometimes reactively.
Next to safety and security, the need for belonging and affiliation is another need on high alert. In keeping with the directive of 6 foot social distance and safe at home, we are inclined to find ways to socialize and connect. In future posts I will describe some of the new ways that we have found to bridge this gap.