Monday, March 30, 2020

Going Over The Cliff

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic several nations have taken the approach that the best way to deal with this virus is to allow their people to develop immunity, the immunity of the herd. Isolate and protect the most vulnerable citizens, but otherwise allow business as usual for the most part. They have imposed some restrictions, but nothing along the lines of what we are seeing in the United States and the majority of European countries. Great Britain took this approach for a few weeks before reaching the Reality Cliff. After looking over the edge as members of their herd starting plunging to their death, Great Britain’s leadership revised their strategy and started shutting things down.

Interesting thing though about herds and new viruses. They tend to come together forming a train that is impossible to stop. Especially if the virus is highly contagious and there is no vaccine. Sweden and Denmark continue to pursue this more relaxed approach to managing COVID-19, counting on the herd to quickly develop immunity and eventually shutdown the virus. But they are also imposing certain restrictions and my guess is those will increase in the days and weeks ahead. However, they may also find that the unstoppable train of the infected herd is already on its way to the Reality Cliff. Hopefully, these smaller, relatively healthy countries with above average healthcare networks will find a way to overcome what is coming their way.

In the meantime, the rest of us will continue to play “flatten the curve”. We also have summer heat on the way which should help in some parts of the world. But who knows what will happen as winter takes hold in the Southern hemisphere. Hopefully a vaccine is available sooner rather than later. But if it really is 12-18 months away, we may find ourselves living and dying on the curve again next winter, a herd without immunity staring over a different cliff…the one called Economic Reality.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Just Like The Flu….Only Different

I am skeptical by nature. I am just not a trusting person. I don’t trust the media to report honestly and fairly without bias. That would be any media. Their main objective is to grab the audience and keep them coming back. I don’t trust politicians, because…well, they are professional politicians. Their main objective is to get elected and re-elected…over and over. So they will say and do whatever it takes to do that. I don’t automatically trust scientists (and that would include those in medicine) because if you listen closely they always hedge their bets. They are rarely totally wrong or totally right. Reality is usually somewhere in the middle between the media’s worst case scenario and the scientists’ best case scenario. So when I see the world turning out the lights and hiding under the bed over COVID-19, I wonder how we seem to always end up at the “worst case scenario” end of the spectrum. (Lest we forget, remember the Y2K scare?)

The CDC reports that between 3000 and 49,000 people in the United States die of flu-related complications every year. In the 1990’s it has been reported that we averaged losing 36,000 people per year to the flu. It doesn’t seem to have gone down much in the 2000s and 2010s. In the winter of 2017-2018 the CDC reported that some 80,000 people died as a result of the flu. The highest death toll in 40 years! They also tell us that flu vaccinations are at best 40-60% effective in keeping someone from getting the flu. Sounds to me like we’ve been playing Russian roulette with flu viruses for a long-time.

So why the panic this time? What makes COVID-19 different? First of all, it’s the unknown factor. We don’t know how contagious it is? We don’t know how long it survives in the air or on surfaces. The experts are telling us this virus is a tough little survivor that doesn’t die quickly, remaining virulent for hours in the air and for days on certain surfaces. We don’t know the mortality rate for COVID-19 because we don’t know how many people actually have it. And we don’t have enough test kits to find out. And, oh by the way, we do know that we don’t have a vaccine for it.

Secondly, the media is streaming 24/7 coverage of COVID-19 and we are lapping it up. Never have so many heard so much, yet know so little about something that might kill them. I don’t fault the media nor do I fault the audience. Inquiring minds want to know. I’m as bad as anyone. I am constantly checking for updates. So we all know that this thing is out there… and we don’t know how to stop it. Scary.

Third, like most things these days, it’s being politicized. Even in normal times, the opposition party will blame the President for anything that goes wrong or might go wrong or might have gone better if something else had been done. That’s politics. But these are not normal times and we’re in an election year. There is literally nothing that Trump can do or say that will not be immediately and harshly criticized by Democrats and most of the media. He is also his own worst enemy and has lost a lot of credibility by too often not telling the truth and…well…by just being Trump. So the COVID-19 fire is constantly being refueled by anti-Trump political rhetoric.

Next, our culture has changed. We are increasingly fearful and overly protective. Much has been written about “helicopter” parenting, safe-spaces and emotional triggers. Anxiety and depression are at all time highs among teenagers and college students. There is a reason why so many young people are ready to give up on our way of life and embrace socialism. It’s a cry for help. And it’s not totally unwarranted. But that’s a whole other discussion. The point here is that in this climate of fear and anxiety, something like COVID-19 is always going to land on our doorstep wrapped as the worst case scenario.

And finally, there is Risk Management and Liability. No company, organization or institution can afford not to take every precaution to protect people. Especially, if other companies, organizations or institutions are doing so. Want to get sued for millions of dollars and lose. Go ahead and have that sporting event, or conference, or concert, or pressure your employees to come to work when they don’t feel good. Then some COVID-19 related death is connected back to your actions. Good luck with that. We live in a highly litigious society. Nuclear verdicts (settlements of tens and hundreds of millions) are becoming commonplace. This is big business and certain law firms are always looking for new targets. Mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic is prime.

So are we over-reacting? Not really. All things considered, we are responding rationally to an irrational situation. It is what it is. We cannot undo the media overkill. There is no stopping the political warfare. We are a fearful and anxious nation that no longer hopes for the best but always expects the worst. And there are those among us who have found ways to monetize that fear and anxiety and we will all end up paying for it.

Then there is COVID-19 itself. It really is a thing. And it might just be really bad, a lot worse than the flu viruses that we already know about. Some of which are resistant to our annual vaccinations and kill 30,000 of us every year. Or maybe it’s not worse. But why take the chance? I think I’ll go wash my hands and just stay home.