COVID – 19: Health Recovery and Economic Recovery Go Hand in HandApril 21, 2020
Many have said that in the COVID-19 pandemic nations must choose between economic recovery and the recovery of the physical health of their populations. We believe that as a general proposition this is not correct, and this thinking can be dangerous. We believe that both recoveries go hand in hand and are dependent on each other. We have endeavored to provide a partial roadmap for doing so. We write this with great humility and respect and welcome your thoughts, criticisms, and comments.
This false dialectic has and undoubtedly will again result in bad decision-making. We should each endeavor, and also pressure our leaders, not to make policy, economic, and governmental decisions based on false data, claims, denial, purely political motivations, or naive hope. Doing so will create dire consequences and will quickly head us towards a quasi-Malthusian Trap.
We have accepted that the way to face this pandemic, like most every other problem we confront, is through sound thinking and fact-based action. The quicker we recognize reality, the quicker and better our medical, economic, and governmental recovery will be. Understanding the facts will provide a basis for a correct plan and will accelerate its implementation. This takes great discipline and a positive perspective of the future.
The answer to the question “When are we going to return to Pre COVID -19 “normal?” is probably NEVER. Let’s examine the definition of “normal.” Normal means familiarity and comfort. It means things happening (or not happening) in a way that lets us anticipate risks and results and make sound predictions. It means establishing actual or perceived control.
To have “normal” we must turn the word into a verb and actively work to “normalize” some aspects of our current situation until we have real and enduring alternative solutions. While we detest what is occurring and it is destructive and disruptive, we must recognize, accept, and normalize aspects of it.(1) We must continue physical distancing and identify and adopt other physically isolating behaviors and practices. Some specific current measures include shopping by delivery or pick-up, working from home, virtual schooling and education, limiting travel, enhanced personal hygiene, wearing effective masks, etc.(2) Doing these things will simultaneously reduce exposure to COVID-19 and support the safety and well-being of our essential workforce, upon whom we rely to sustain us and keep us safe in so many ways.
When we eventually do have solutions such as effective vaccines and pharmaceutical treatments firmly in hand and widely deployed, along with nationwide testing complete with corresponding public health protocols and their enforcement, we can then begin to relax physical isolation, testing, contact tracing, and quarantine measures.
For the foreseeable future we need to regard this pandemic as a blockage in an all-important river. That river is our lifeline as it flows from the mountains to the delta and then to the sea. Imagine that this river becomes partially blocked by a mountain collapsing into it. What happens? Some of the water gets diverted, creating new tributaries. While all or part of the blockage is being removed or altered, we can normalize some of the consequences of the blockage. We must find new paths around the blockage or, better yet, look for ways to put these new waterways to use for our population. They can spur new opportunities, like power plants, natural irrigation, recreation, commercial fisheries, different modes of transportation, and sources of clean water. In a like manner, we must also normalize and harness this naturally occurring pandemic as we clear the blockages it has caused.
Optimally this will be a collective effort and also, importantly, be based on the creativity of individuals, whether they work in industry, government, or nonprofits, or don’t work at all. For instance, a family friend is a manager of a 3,000-employee not-for-profit fitness and community organization. She is already thinking about how to normalize the situation: what specific changes have to occur (reducing number of people accessing facilities at the same time, wiping down all exercise equipment after each use and again every two hours, screening entrants at the door, requiring face masks, and closing or limiting use of locker rooms). This is only one example of an engaged, knowledgeable, and concerned front-line worker using her expertise to normalize and partially tame the COVID monster and “reopen” her facilities.
The great news is that we have already begun to accelerate the normalizing of parts of the “now.” We are learning different and better ways of doing things, leading to an even better quality of life. We are readjusting societal and economic values and resources. The pandemic is teaching us about new aspects of collaboration, caring, and communication and also shining a light on aspects of inequality and injustice.
The pandemic is also providing great opportunities for learning, change, innovation, and creation. For instance, the necessity to work remotely has reduced energy consumption, has reduced pollution, and has had some concomitant positive health consequences (ironically, in respiratory health). It has also confirmed that overwhelming numbers of workers, with proper support and motivation, can be exceptionally productive without having to be at a specific location.
Another question catapulted to the forefront is, “Will this pandemic disruptor accelerate the development and deployment of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and huge data?” For instance, will it accelerate the use of chatbots and other robotic or automated co-workers (with whom we don’t need to be concerned about physical distancing)?(3)
Further, if there was ever a good time for such a horrific event to strike, it is now. Perhaps as a world, but certainly as a nation, we have made massive technological advances that are now being deployed in this battle, and we have a relatively strong economic infrastructure and general economy. The pandemic has also caused the governments of some nations to start paying what are in reality international wages (regardless of how they are labeled). Some nations also have mechanisms, like central banks, to somewhat cushion the financial disruptions and take proactive and defensive measures.
Finally, we are learning more about the performance of our healthcare system and its parts, including but not limited to the quantity and resiliency of the workforce, supply chains, equipment and medical reserves, and the personal safety and training of essential workers. We should be able to gain insight as to whether some parts should be duplicated, enhanced, or completely remodeled.
After 9/11, our governmental leaders formed the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (also known as the 9/11 Commission), an independent bipartisan body created in 2002 by Congress and President George W. Bush. This commission was chaired by former NJ Governor Thomas Kean. The Commission provided a process for understanding what occurred and identifying important changes, and it made several important recommendations. We believe we should also establish a COVID-19 Commission and immediately begin a similar process.
Peter A. Gold, Esquire
More about Peter: https://www.interdependence.org/about/board-of-directors/peter-a-gold-esq/
Jeffrey P. Gold, MD
More about Jeffrey: https://www.unomaha.edu/about-uno/leadership/chancellor/jeffrey-gold.php
Jeffrey P. Gold, M.D., the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s chancellor since early 2014, added leadership to the University of Nebraska Omaha to his responsibilities on May 8, 2017, and approved for this additional role by the Board of Regents at its June meeting. In 2017, Chancellor Gold established a Transition Advisory Council and a Transition Advisory Team that included UNO faculty, staff and administrators; UNMC faculty, staff and administrators; UNO Student Regent; and community members who helped ensure a seamless transition of leadership. Learn more about Chancellor Gold’s UNO transition process.