George Jacob is the President & CEO of Bay Ecotarium / Smithsonian Affiliated San Francisco Aquarium and Sea Lion Center and the author of the recently released book Corona Conundrum: Museum FUTURES. The views expressed are his own.
Ever since Covid-19 originated in Wuhan and swept through nations around the world obliterating economies, devastating businesses, cramping mobility and impacting lifestyles, governments have been grappling with cascading fallouts and their own political futures.
Conflicting guidelines, lack of understanding, scarcity of published peer-reviewed papers, adequate data, metrics of measurement, treatments and inability to project the trajectory of the bell-curve, made matters worse.
It seemed that doctors were recommending economic models, while economists were prescribing medical scenarios.
To make matters more complex, Black Lives Matter became the clarion call in conjunction with defund the police movements across the nation. As people took to rioting and protesting, the coronavirus precautions and social distancing went out of the window.
With election rallies and the political rhetoric ratcheting up the crescendo at massive gatherings, Covid had a free reign, running amok — fast and loose.
Planners, epidemiologists, policy makers, political leaders and bureaucrats attempted to control the message, often laced with the spin factor careening between the Left and the Right.
The shifting goal posts began with the panic projections at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) which estimated 160 million to 214 million infections resulting in up to 1.7 million deaths in the United States alone, shortage of ventilators, personal protection equipment (PPE), number of medical personnel, scenarios of hospital beds being overrun to increasing levels of triage, testing and tracing.
In the months ahead, newer models took into account policy and preventive interventions to slow the spread of the pandemic equating it with phased color-coded easing of re-opening of various businesses an educational institutions.
While the actual number of reported cases in the US has now crossed 10.6 million, the number of deaths are estimated at 223,984 (as of November 12, 2020).
According to an August 2020 CDC report 94 percent of the people who died had contributing pre-existing health conditions. This indicates a mortality of 13,439 directly attributed to Covid 19.
According to the CDC the average of 2.6 additional contributing conditions include influenza, pneumonia, respiratory failure, hypertensive disease, diabetes, vascular, cardiac arrest and renal failure, among others.
Compare that to 35.5 million flu infections, 490,600 hospitalizations and 34,200 deaths in 2019 despite vaccines and other known remedies in place for decades.
None of the stats are cited here to undermine how deadly each of the pandemics or epidemics can become, but only as a point of perspective through a broader lens, as it affects lifestyles and livelihoods.
Even as new cases and infections grab bold headlines, a statistic that is often ignored and seldom touted in the same breath, is the percentage and timeframe of recoveries.
As of August 2020, the recovery rate was averaging at 98 percent with a two-week normalcy window.
When these numbers and projections are weighed against shutdowns, shelter in place and lockdown orders spanning over eight months, with sporadic ups and downs of restrictions, communities begin to question the wisdom of some measures that seemingly lack rationale and logic or are not grounded in any scientific data but largely conjecture and hypotheticals.
It is further exacerbated by one-sided media briefings that have no endgame in sight, crippling economies, livelihoods with the demoralizing, depressing mental effects of being unemployed, incarcerated at home and unable to socialize, travel or eat out — not to mention the rising levels of domestic violence.
One begins to wonder how all major Box stores have remained open with thousands of customers each day without the fear of Covid, while smaller stores with a fraction of customer traffic remain forced shut.
One ponders over the logic of why tiny restaurant kitchens that have cooks and cleaners jostling next to each other for 10 hours a day to prepare food cannot serve food indoors by the same token.
One questions why liquor stores are deemed essential, while animal care is not.
One worries about the variance in materiality of face coverings in use from cotton to polyester to bandanas to lycra versus medical grade PPE that can actually be effective in preventing the spread of droplets.
Obviously, there has been a communication breakdown between decision makers and stakeholders.
From the former mayor of San Francisco Willie Brown decrying the confused, chaotic and contradictory regulations that even the regulators have a hard time explaining, the new norm is an ever-evolving notion of safety that is unsustainable and, at best, unenforceable.
Random decrees that open and close businesses based on scenarios not backed with transparency or scientific data, and open scientific debates and discourses, leave people perplexed and mentally drained, with sinking hopes of ever returning to “normal”.
The cost of delayed health care is staggering, with 42 percent reporting delaying a doctor’s visit or procedure due to Covid.
The psychological cost of lockdown-induced anxiety, depression, child abuse, domestic violence, is pegged at 24 percent.
Add that to the increasing costs of a massive laid-off work force losing healthcare insurance and benefits.
Even as shanty shacks for outdoor dining crop-up encroaching scarce parking outside bars and restaurants, empty hotels, mass exodus of businesses and professionals, growing bankruptcies, collapse of tourism, gaping gaps in rental properties and joblessness has permeated every sector, with its devastating impact forecast well into 2021.
When will the reactive restrictions shift gears to intelligent proactive solutions of containment?
When will the statistics of quick recovery be tabled alongside caseload spikes?
When can honest discussions about choices, lifestyles and livelihoods take center stage in the Bay Area, where there is a confluence of the best minds of the world capable of splitting an atom and sending a man to the moon?
With billions lost in economies, when will new investments be announced to enhance capacity of emergency response at hospitals with new beds, medical personnel, equipment and resources should there be another spike or, heaven forbid, a Covid 21?
Acknowledging the spread and recovery rate of the cases, seeking intelligent proactive solutions beyond blind and blinkered ineffective measures and metrics, are the only way to defang fear and fatalism and embrace a viable lifestyle of nurtured new inventive hope and normalcy to maintain livelihoods.
Let us herald 2021 with renewed vigor, vision and vaccine, for a better prepared future.