Negotiations Begin

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.

“The Shape of Patriotism” – Photoshop by David McGavock

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.

Health experts agree that a long term recovery will require:

  • 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.

Here are some ideas for how to socialize while social distancing (from the Des Moines Register):

  • Hold a virtual dinner party. Bring the webcam to the table and share a meal together.
  • Browser extensions like Netflix Party allow you to sync up streaming shows and movies with your friends.
  • Some video games, like Minecraft or Animal Crossing, allow players to play together remotely.
  • The Marco Polo app allows users to send short videos to each other. It’s more personal than just a text message. 
  • 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.

Find Law

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.

If you are interested, here is a summary of the state by state restrictions.

Slow path to recovery

Last weekend health experts and politicians warned that the week of April 6th would be the deadliest week of the pandemic. The week did meet those expectations and put the US close to the lead for deaths by country. It is a surprise that, on the heels of that week, one of the main headlines is “how quickly can we open for business?” While it is a valid question (who isn’t concerned for their long term economic future) it is still seems premature. Such is the still intangible nature of the spread of Covid-19 and the political and economic angles that are complicating rational and regional interventions.

As we watch and hope for a reduction of infection and death, there are a few variables that seem key:

  • Supplies of PPE and ventilators in hard his areas.
  • Supplies of tests and the materials required to support tests.
  • Health of health care workers.
  • Health of “essential workers” still engaged in business and public service.
  • Access to tests by health care works and “essential workers”.
  • Good data: accurate accounts of infection by locale and group (race, age, living conditions,

Without progress on these variables, we can’t begin economic recovery in a sustainable way. We will be cycling in and out of economic insecurity.

Testing – How? Who?

As we embark on the journey to reopen the economy, there are a few basic ingredients that most agree need to be addressed. The most notable is testing, for without testing, the spread vs elimination of the viral infection is just speculation. Granted we have indicators (symptoms, hospitalizations, deaths) of the spread but these numbers don’t help us with a pro-active plan. They are but indications of our failure.

As we contemplate the re-opening of business and social gatherings, testing will be one of the most important and often discussed issues. The scientific community has moved at miraculous speed to develop tests for infection and anti-bodies. With tests in hand, one would think that administering it would be fairly straightforward, but history and the current political climate shows us otherwise.

The first hurdle in the quest for widespread testing is the supply and distribution. There is no indication that the federal government will play a significant role in coordinating the supply of tests or the components that are required to do testing. so states will be left to compete with each other and will set their own protocols for administration. On March 6th Trump said:

“Anybody that needs a test, gets a test. They have the tests. And the tests are beautiful.” He said the same day: “Anybody that wants a test can get a test.”

ABCNews – April 11

Clearly Trump’s declaration wasn’t true in March and isn’t true today. While there are indications that (as of April 12th) there is an uptick in the number of tests, the shortage has created a train wreck of problems in the management of the disease. First of all, doctors and nurses have to treat patients as if they have covid-19 until they determine their diagnosis. This leads to an overuse of precious PPE and an overuse of precious hospital space. Without tests, hospitals cannot safely discharge patients. Without adequate tests for doctors and nurses, they are excluded from work creating an even larger shortage of staff.

Testing for an open economy – When?

This week’s news cycle will be full of speculation regarding when our economy will reopen for business. We can expect tension between those assuring us that relief is right around the corner and people with more sober assessments. The decision should be linked to the rate of infection and the availability tests. Based on the precautions taken thus far, you can expect that the approach will vary from state to state, county to county and city to city. The Trump administration may continue to act a cheerleader rather than make a commitment. Or in the worst case, they will disparage the recommendations of local governments.

Fortunately there true models of testing procedure, social engagement and business management in other countries who are further down this path. New Zealand, Iceland and South Korea are 3 examples. Despite the tendency for the president to discount the success of others, our state and municipal leaders will find these models useful as they chart their own path.

Jared Polis of Colorado has extended sheltering recommendations to April 26th. This date has been tagged as a point of reassessment more than a solid deadline. Pragmatically, he has placed the onus our success on the behavior of Coloradans.

“If there is any way to safely end it sooner, then we will,” Polis said. “And likewise if Coloradans aren’t staying at home and the numbers of the dead and dying continue to increase, then it could go longer.”

Denver Post – April 11th

Who will be tested? Will tests be administered strategically? Will guidelines be provided so that we make best use of a limited resource? These questions underline where the rubber (test) meets the road (people).

On the question of who will be tested there are some obvious gaps already. To date, essential workers and black americans are not being tested. These workers are exposed and exposing themselves to large numbers of people and they are dis proportionally minorities. Even if there is no overt bias against testing blacks and hispanics, the placement of testing sites mirrors the disparity in access to medical care, with a lack of availability in poor (typically black) neighborhoods. There are many reports of this disparity emerging:

On Monday Governor John Bel Edwards announced that a shocking 70% of deaths were among African Americans, despite making up only 33% of the state’s population.

The Guardian – April 8

In the days since I started writing this post, my prediction has been confirmed (though it doesn’t require omniscience to anticipate the broad strokes of Donald Trump)…

As states begin to cooperate and take the lead on strategies to reopen commerce and travel, the Trump administration has done an about face on the question of who is leading this response. The states’ initiative is assuring given the commitment to use data rather than “gut feelings” to bring the idling economy back into gear. The work has only begun of course but the reins are in the right hands with the governors. Even as the governors begin the work, Trump waves his hands and while reading names of his new “Opening the Country Council”. The list of almost 200 includes many who have been criticized by the president in the past. He will be “calling them” in the days to come.

Politics or People?

Warning: This post is full of my political perspective. 
I have condensed my opinion into this post so that I can
get it off my chest and focus on more unifying messages.
So you can take it or leave it.
If this is going make you disown me, don't read it.
I hope you enjoy my less political thoughts in other posts.

In a culture in which history is easily discarded or crowded with news cycles, one of the biggest stories of history is now being written. Time for us to pay attention and act.

Social disruption due to the spread of Covid-19 and the inevitable economic consequences are filling our awareness. With time on our hands, we watch the reports: Infection rates, economic indicators, stories from the front line, the state and federal restrictions, supply chains. These are trends that tell the evolving story of the problem and our collective remedies (promised and/or delivered). It’s clear, that this pandemic will impact ALL OF US sooner or later.

Interjected into the science and business of the emergency response are the political (who’s in control) questions of how, when, where and who will deliver. Where are the supplies of masks, ventilators and other protection? Do we have a test yet? When will unemployment checks arrive? Who is in charge of the federal response? What precautions / behavior do we agree on?

The Trump administration’s approach to this crisis puts the president front and center, in a position to steer the conversation and the response. This is as it should be. He is president after all. The question is whether he is squandering this responsibility to legitimately coordinate a response for screen time in front of the American people. Surely he has better things to do – people to learn from and work with – than stand in front of cameras. I used to think that he was unaware of the random diversions in his speeches. The message isn’t as much about the federal response as what he has accomplished and how other people are failing and incompetent. He is aware of what he’s doing though he doesn’t always give second thought to what or how he says it.

With the corona virus at the top of the agenda, it is more difficult for him to divert away from the main topic. It has forced him to have some semblance of an ordered, humane, message. But slowly the showman has found ways to do more magic and distract the public from the reality of the federal government’s faltering emergency response.

While people and networks might debate the competence of our response, it is evident that the president is mean spirited in his language. He has provided no rationale for distributing supplies and pits states against one another to compete for emergency resources. This approach is counter to unifying our nation. Perhaps that is the point and purpose Trump’s response. Divide and conquer.

Enter more distractions

We should expect to see more distractions injected into the news in the weeks to come. Trump has had time to read the field, to search for new wild herring. If we continue to allow him to dominate the microphone, rallying his base with divisive invective we will be dancing to his beat. The alternative is to take the offensive as some governors have done, holding his administration accountable for what is delivered and how it is coordinated (or not).

Invective is abusive, reproachful, or venomous language used to express blame or censure; or, a form of rude expression or discourse intended to offend or hurt; vituperation, or deeply seated ill will, vitriol. The Latin adjective invectivus means ‘scolding.’

The latest distraction is the evolving story behind the export of N95 masks. Trump has found a way to continue his nationalist agenda while creating a stir in the media. “Look at me flex my muscles!!!”, is the message. He is essentially saying, “I may be failing the country in organizational terms but I can still make sh$t happen.” It just so happens that this move resonates with the “close our borders” crowd. We’ll see if he changes his mind after talking with the Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. First the tough guy headline, then the negotiation is the pattern.

“We know it is in both of our interests to work collaboratively and co-operatively to keep our citizens safe and that’s very much the tenor of our conversations and I’m confident that we’re going to get there.”

Justin Trudeau – April 5th

This critical, though factual, account of what I have read and observed of our president doesn’t mean this isn’t a difficult position that he’s in. Any president would be overwhelmed with the data, the unprecedented geographical scope, the economic impact and the shortage of supplies. My beef is with his vague, “I’m doing great”, “everybody else is an idiot”, “go it alone” routine. Why not let the experts do the work? Why not guide and support people with a clear message?

One of the president’s complaints is how surprising this situation is, how he was distracted by the impeachment trials and/or how the failures of his predecessors laid the groundwork for this event. While there is fault to go around for a lack of preparedness, this virus was identified on December 31st, 2019. What is notable is the lack of action there was on the part of our government in the from January 1st and forward.

There was warning, there was some time for the mobilization of resources. Some of these warnings were expressed formally by Democratic Presidential candidates at the end of January. Elizabeth Warren published her concerns and plan and Joe Biden expressed the same. They both recommended that we mobilize for the worst. Congressmen had opportunity to divest stocks in January so alarm was circulating.

As for the years of his administration leading up to this pandemic, there are a host questions of regarding funding, disabling or de-funding agencies responsible for a response. It appears that the Trump administration treated the threat of a pandemic much like they have with other public health and safety concerns:

The Trump administration slashed agencies and government programs responsible for detecting and responding to the virus, it ignored multiple warnings of a potential surge, and it publicly downplayed the threat of the pandemic even after it had secured a foothold in the country.

Business Insider – April 7, 2020

Of course the administration is denying their negligence. But Trump’s long pattern of behavior cannot be denied. His success at disarming public institutions who’s mandate is public health and safety is well established. It all falls under his banner: Remove government oversight. It shouldn’t be any surprise that he acted in the way that ignored good sense in favor of his disdain for government personnel, and his isolationist agenda.

As painful as it is to watch, Trump’s pattern of isolationist rhetoric and action is continuing today, April 9th. Rather than collaborating with agencies that can shorten the impact of the pandemic, he is adding to the discord by accusing the World Health Organization of being “China-centric”. Once again his best defense appears to be attributing HIS behavior to others. Stay tuned…

Balancing Anxiety with Awareness

As we entered this week, we were told to expect infection rates and death to dramatically increase. While we have consistently been told that things will get worse before they get better, this headline highlights the dread of this long march.

This long march

I begin every day with meditation, to get in touch with the state of my body and my mind. I simply sit up in bed, say prayers and rest with whatever is going on. The point isn’t to fix anything, to change anything but to rest in the nature of my mind. In the face of the intense suffering of people around the world, the desire to understand it, the fear of how the disease and the turmoil will evolve, the impulse to DO something, resting takes resolve.

Gone are the days when my thoughts floated among more mundane events and news and relationships. While there’s always something buzzing in my head, passing like clouds in my awareness, this p r o l o n g e d event has special weight and it presents a special opportunity. It calls me to be resolved and clear about what matters; people, kindness, consideration and care. It calls me to get out of my narrow concerns for myself and to pay attention to the welfare of others.

This solitary experience of writing is one of my feeble attempts to make a connection with others. While recording my thoughts in print may appear contrary to the experience of letting thoughts pass in meditation, it is a vehicle for facing the reality of today (recognize and release, recognize and release). While I would love it if someone benefits from my stories (connect with me), I am content with the connection that this exercise gives me to others. I intend to use it to to deepen my awareness without stealing my ability to be a support to others.

How Much News Can We Bear

In order to understand the daily news and make a connection, I am taking quite a bit of time to read and listen to the news of the day. I’m trying to discern the pattern of events, stories, edicts, and pronouncements. All this reading can take it’s toll on my psyche. It has the potential for generating anxiety and fear, grasping and avoidance.

This morning I woke wondering how these emotions are being processed. Am I capable of staying informed, bringing information to this blog, while maintaining a degree of balance? Can I maintain composure in the face of the pounding waves of uncertainty and death?

As I ponder my own ability to weather this storm of uncertainty, I wonder about the resilience and commitment of others (my community, state, nation and world). We have never faced an “event” that requires such extended commitment or concentration. We have been engaged in war. But while the conflicts in the Middle East have been raging for almost 2 decades, most of us, save the service men, women and families, have not felt the sacrifice and dread in our homes. This pandemic event is more aptly called an all-inclusive proceeding. Not only is it a slow process but no one is immune from it’s effects. It will require continuous adjustment on the part of everyone and a renewal of our intentions as it evolves.

Long Term Sacrifice

There is no doubt that this all-inclusive proceeding will continue through the years to come. The question is, will we unite as a nation following best health practices for the greater good OR will we take sides, argue and dilute the best advice of scientists under the banter of partisan opinion and individual autonomy.

Given the immediate resistance of some politicians to provide clear guidelines for isolating the virus, it seems likely that partisan opinion will persist. This will happen despite the fact that people’s physical health is at stake. Their objections to sheltering take many forms. One governor expressed doubts that people can handle isolation at home.

Even as Iowa’s coronavirus cases have grown to more than 1,000 with 26 deaths and the state’s medical board has recommended a stay-at-home order, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds maintains that demanding people not leave their homes would threaten their mental health.


Other state governors cite the economic impact (a reflection of their popularity). All appear to value their sense of autonomy more than pragmatism. They ignore the advice that stay at home rules will shorten people’s suffering while building a banner for doing it their own way. Having worked with rebellious teenagers, their opposition feels very familiar to me.

I realize that we will have differences of opinion and act differently. Just as people on the street conduct themselves in different ways; face mask or not, 6 feet or not, gathering or not. We should accept that this is going to be the case. But laissez faire leadership the muddies the water of healthy practice presents a much more dangerous precedent. I am puzzled by their audacity to count themselves differently than the rest of us and put their agenda in front of the health and welfare of the community.

The cost of gathering and spreading covid-19 will be born by us all. While individual rights and the right to act unilaterally against tyranny deserve respect, this is no such time. Their actions degrade the general welfare of our national community. It is selfish, and borders on neglect and dereliction of duty. The virus has no boundary, no nationality, no state identity. It favors human contact and WILL spread. While some lead and act on the behalf of the group, these contrarians act unilaterally just because they can.

This pandemic is a lesson. We are learning a lot as we suffer through it’s mystery. But our insight will need to be applied consistently, across communities and over the long term. The virus and the remedies don’t leave much room for individual expression. They are beyond politics and negotiation. This isn’t something I or any leaders relishes or invites. How we adapt to the virus to provide distance, in the heat of increased infection or in the aftermath of rebuilding, will be shaped by creative solutions of individuals but the rules it imposes will be prescriptive. There is no negotiation of it’s existence or power. Take your medicine or take the consequences.

Rules of Engagement

Precautions or Restictions?

Yesterday our governor encouraged people to wear a mask when they leave the house

“We’re asking all Coloradans to wear face coverings when they go out of the house for any of your essential functions like grocery shopping.”

Jared Polis – Fort Collins Coloradan

Also yesterday, Trump announced the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now recommending the use of non medical cloth masks, either homemade or purchased, in public settings. Notice he didn’t say that he is recommending or standing behind this recommendation.

The CDC recommendation is just that, Trump said, and not mandatory, though he said he probably wouldn’t be wearing a mask. The recommendation does not replace social distancing measures, he said.


We are in the process of setting new social norms. This isn’t rocket science, it is social science that has been established for 70 or 80 years. If you want to change human behavior you need to be clear in your expectations and communication. You need to repeat your message and model it in various ways. Contrary to this science we are being provided half hearted directions. Of course, if you never really decide what you want people to do OR if you are vague in your support of the change you will NEVER see any change. You will see confusion and even passive and aggressive division among the masses.

Behave Yourself

Today I filled a prescription at Target and I saw very few masks or face coverings of any kind on shoppers or the staff. I realize that this is the first day of the recommendation but I wonder when or if people will take action. Covering your face is a big change of style. The fact that it has taken us so long to believe the benefits of a mask is incredible. This has been known for a the past month at least:

The new coronavirus spreads mostly through person-to-person contact within about a 6-foot (1.8 meters) radius, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). People with COVID-19, which is the disease caused by the coronavirus, spread viral particles through coughing and sneezing. The particles can land in the mouths or noses of those nearby. – Live Science – March 3, 2020

Wearing masks is only the most recent recommendation of behavior change. Social distancing was recommended before masks probably because the fear that there would be a run on masks and that it required less change for the public. Distancing does run counter to the human desire to be social and engaged but the consequences are disastrous.

Service to our Country – What does it look like?

Clearly, all recommendation, whether for scientists or government, might feel invasive and counter to personal freedom. While I haven’t been bold enough to ask, I see people in stores who blithely move in and out of groups of people, who don’t appear to be concerned at all. I wonder if they are simply unaware of personal space or defiantly ignoring recommendations. The problem of course is that they are endangering others, not just themselves.

As this crisis moves into it’s second month, I wonder if we are going to see greater defiance or greater cooperation. How will people deal with the behavior of others coming close or not wearing protection? Will there be open confrontations in public? One of the hallmarks of the Trump administration’s narrative has been freedom for the individual to do whatever s/he wants and a rejection of scientific, expert and government recommendations (hoaxes). This message is reinforced by his lackluster recommendation to wear a mask. This nature of this crisis challenges this defiance forcing the individual to weigh the facts of science seriously. It requires that we consider other’s safety as our own. It connects personal choice to the greater good.

The difference between a precaution and a restriction is one of perspective. If I feel someone is “making” me do something it feels like a restriction. If I am making the choice myself, it is a precaution. What’s your perpective?