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Opinion

To save the fall, it will take a unified effort

Mixed messages.

That’s really why we have a confused American public during a global health crisis, and internal political feuds when we should be a unified nation, trying to help one another get through this.

We have national health experts like Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, saying the U.S. can reverse course and control the latest outbreaks of the coronavirus in just a few weeks if people follow social distancing and hygiene guidelines to slow the spread. 

“Just as we’ve seen cases skyrocket, we can turn this thing around in one to two months if we can get a critical mass of people wearing face coverings, practicing at least six feet of social distancing, doing the things that we know are effective,” Adams said.

But, then you have the model from the top, with Vice President Mike Pence, head of the Coronavirus Task Force, and his boss, President Trump, often taking a different approach or outright discrediting those doctors or guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The president recently said “99 percent of the cases are totally harmless.”

Supporters then naturally gravitate toward that philosophy, which is rooted at least in part to having a good economic appearance heading into the November elections.

Those who have not supported this administration are automatically supposed to join the camp desiring a continued crumbling economy and chaos in opening the schools until after Nov. 3, when they will magically make a vaccine and new therapies appear.

(How all of the other countries got in on this conspiracy with Trump’s opposition is quite a feat!)

The only problem is, some of us are not actually staking ground in one of those two divergent political camps. For example, I felt the president was lagging early in a definitive response to the growing pandemic and I personally would not vote for a second term, yet I WANT school to return and for sports to be played this fall. But, I’m starting to sense trends that would prevent that to be done safely.

First, a physical return to the classroom is what is best for kids who have already missed so much learning time, AND it’s vitally connected to the job I have been laid off from since March 31. My livelihood literally depends on getting past this crisis as quickly as possible.

While kids are low transmitters of the disease and rarely very sick with it, they can carry and spread it to more vulnerable people such as school staff and their families. Young people are already running around in packs like everything is normal, so the virus has found a fertile breeding ground, even before school starts.

While mortality rates are in decline, hospitalization rates for COVID-19 in adults (18-64 years) are higher than cumulative end-of-season hospitalization rates for influenza over each of the past five influenza seasons. And 5% of positive-COVID 19 cases end up in ICU.

At 63 years old, I admit to being a little apprehensive about starting as a middle school basketball coach in a few months, unless the situation improves. That will be about the time we also have 12,000 to 60,000 annual U.S. deaths from the seasonal flu.

Inconsistent mask use

Adults have generally been careful about spacing and wearing masks in some places I go. I’m usually among several people wearing face masks in the grocery store or a quick trip to Walmart. (Beginning Monday face coverings will be required for Walmart customers.)

But, I admit that barely any of us ever have one on in Casey’s or the local hardware and building supply stores I’ve been frequenting since doing more home projects recently. We’re not very consistent with it as a nation, and my own inconsistency is part of the problem. But, I would comply 100% with a temporary mandate. “Suggested” use often falls on deaf ears.

Our culture and system of local jurisdiction government doesn’t lend itself to the kind of national, comprehensive response that contained the virus enough to open schools and play sports in some Asian and European countries.

Everyone in Japan and South Korea wears a mask in a health crisis. It’s a way of life. The South Korea schools that opened several weeks ago already had Plexiglas partitions in classrooms and cafeteria seating, temperature checks at entrances, mask requirements in the classrooms and sanitizing stations everywhere.

Some international sports leagues are going, mostly without fans, because they truly flattened the curve and got transmission rates vastly lower than we’ve done in the United States. New cases are about 400 a day in Germany, 200 a day in Italy, compared to 9,000 per day in Texas and 13,000-plus a day in Florida. That’s why we’re concerned about schools opening in a few weeks.

Our problem started when the weather started to turn, and collectively our attitude was “Let’s move on and stop obsessing about the virus.” So, we got careless about transmission precautions.

I’m proud to be an American, but when we focus so strongly on individual rights, the big picture gets obscurred. Regulations for the commong good seem to work in policies like no shirt-no shoes to enter stores, to not smoke inside buildings, and to wear seat belts while driving. Somehow, as a society didn’t we manage to keep our democracy in place after losing those freedoms?

Unified effort

For a few months, until therapies and vaccines help eradicate some of the fear, the least we could to is put on a face mask for awhile. Even though many of those afflicted now are younger people with less severe symptoms, who knows the lingering effects on the airway system and other organs? Some of the early evidence on that is troubling.

To have kids back in school, at least in a hybrid system of some days in school and other days with online learning, and to have things like high school and college football, we have to start doing better NOW. If we continue to circulate in crowded indoor settings without coverings, and get lax about diligent hygiene, we’re headed toward more cases, and more shutdowns.

I don’t care who you support in the election, that is NOT what we want. Nobody’s life improves in another shutdown. More businesses will close permanently, and kids will fall farther behind in school, with parents facing major child care issues.

It’s a mess, but it’s of our own doing. The sooner we realize that, the quicker we can start to snuff some of these outbreaks and have a chance for a sliver of normalcy.

We’re at the tipping point. The next few weeks will determine the fate of our schools, our economy and our sports and entertainment. California is already pulling back again with shutdowns. Can Iowans avoid that?

Let’s hope so.

•••

Contact the writer:

Email: malachy.lp@gmail.com

Twitter: @larrypeterson

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