Responding to the Covid-19 Crisis

As we suffer through the lockdowns, shut-ins and stays at home, we have time to look around and see how others are handling things. Some of us are working from home, some are working from home and caring for children at home, and some are essential workers whose children are not in school and who cannot afford daycare on their often low end wages. For those who must go out for work, for food or just for relief from being shut in, every day runs a risk of bringing home a potentially serious illness. And in this case, we’re playing a game of high stakes poker. Our children, parents or other household members are the stakes in this ‘game.’ ‘Winning’ the bet, we can keep them, but the odds are really good – 10,000 to 1 says we win, a sure thing – for every encounter with someone who may or may not be infected. Of course, those encounters who are ‘sure’ they’re not infected, and so don’t behave so cautiously, can shift those odds. Touching any stressors yet?

As we watch around our communities, it is clear that most people understand the risks and are inconvenienced but realistic about them. It’s unlikely that more than a handful of people would actually want to be responsible for using their absent or light symptom infection to harm others, and fortunately only a small percentage of people are dismissive of the callously potential danger they pose. The question concerning them is: How many rabid dogs will we tolerate in our community? After all, it’s all about communities, large and small.

The world today is seeing a pandemic of proportions not seen before, and we are ramping up to control it, as we must. Our resources are being stretched. Our fears are being stoked. And our thinking is being clouded by political agendas and news marketing strategies. Is protecting our lives and livelihoods the ultimate goal of what’s being done to get control of the pandemic, or are our votes and dollars metaphorically coal being shoveled into the boiler to keep the train running down the tracks even as the passengers are dying in and being pushed off the cars as we go? And who decides how it will go? We are smart enough to know that 1.) we don’t know it all and 2.) we deserve answers to questions like these.

Before we make demands on those in power, we need to do some research. If we make demands and get those demands met only to find we made matters worse, accept it or not, we are responsible for the harm that results. If we do the research, ask the questions, consider some options before setting the demands, we improve the chances of success and can accept responsibility for having done the best that can be done, no matter the outcome. Research is a recipe: get ideas and inputs from as many people and places as possible, and consider all the ideas in terms of doing the most good for the most people on into the future if possible. The alternative recipe is a recipe for disaster: ignore other people’s ideas and input and do what you like best, especially when it does the most good for yourself. That recipe is a bit like Russian roulette, maybe a good choice, maybe not. Bang.

“But,” you say, “we have to deal with the crisis now!” And I agree, but we must also deal with the outcomes from those decisions and with moving on post-crisis in a world that will be changed. Doing it all is important, or we will be right back where we are now, asking why we dismantled something, or why we didn’t have a more comprehensive plan. The next crisis won’t be a walk in the park, but a crisis will come and it can be another hurdle or it can be a crushing disaster that kills tens, maybe hundreds of thousands, maybe millions. So as we deal with the crisis now, we must gather as much information about what’s working and what’s not as we can, and we must start shaping it into a more secure future. If we learn that having done something differently, giving a better outcome than expected, document it and add it to the plan for the next time. And since things we try this time, whether they succeed or fail, give us more options for all times, we should examine them all. When those options have better results than what we had been doing, more effective and/or more cost effective, keep them. This last piece is extremely important.

‘Overcoming’ and ‘moving on’ can be replaced with ‘overcoming’ and ‘moving forward.’ We can come out of this better positioned not just for tomorrow’s crisis, but for every tomorrow. If my house has ground water seeping into the basement, and I lose that house to a tornado, I have some options. I could find and buy a new house. I could rebuild my house on higher, drier ground, if I have some. Or I could rebuild my house on the same foundation. Choosing to rebuild on the same foundation may be the only affordable option of course, and that’s sad but very real. If, on the other hand, at a time of such a disaster there were some public help when I lose my leaky house, would it seem to make sense to build on that leaky foundation?

We don’t have the resources now, but what if we set up something before the next house loss disaster. I spend a few thousand dollars a year for insurance on things I own. Is it unrealistic for all property owners to contribute fifty dollars a year to fund disaster relief, to help those unable to meet the uninsured costs of a disaster? When run at scale, change could be implemented rather painlessly. This is not the best or only solution, but as I sat here thinking this up and typing, I realize how much a little thought from many of people could create considerable resources for big change.

Change is difficult. It requires will and effort. Yet, change is actually easier during and immediately after a crisis when earlier shortcomings and their painful results are laid bare; it provides the will to change. Complacency defeats change because it provides little will to put out any effort. If we were ever to get back to normality, we would be building back on the same leaky foundation. We need to think beyond now and embrace change.

We take on the crisis when it comes. We learn from that what we must do differently the next time, and plan for it. And we look at how our efforts have given us better, while affordable, ways to carry on our everyday better designed lives by designing those strategies into our  ongoing institutions.

In the 1980’s I was teaching in a, then, junior high school. One day, my principal announced with certainty, as he often did, that “We’re getting there.” I pointed out to him that when we are going somewhere and we get there, we stop. I didn’t think he should encourage us to decide to stop going any day soon. From my point of view, when I got to the end of the year with my seventh graders, I was looking forward to getting going with a new bunch when we’d start over in the fall. Life is like that.

We’ll get through the Covid-19 pandemic, but let’s hope we never get over it.

About Jay C Ritterson
If I say nothing, it might be that I have nothing to say.

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