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My Thoughts on COVID

In December 2019, news started coming out of China about a new influenza. This flu was going to be more deadly and more transmissible. People with underlying health problems would be more susceptible to this flu, which was called COVID 19. “This is going to be bigger than the average flu,” I thought.

I also thought: “By the time, governments put on travel restrictions, it will be too late.” I was right on that prediction. By late January 2020, COVID cases were known in many parts of the world. Then the governments put on travel restrictions. 

In March 2020, my workplace was put under lockdown. We were to work online from home. My particular work situation meant that I got paid for not doing very much because online work didn’t transfer to my job duties very well. But I had some colleagues that had to master some difficult software in a short time.

About the same time, the authorities were saying that face masks were not necessary for average people. “Why would they say something like that for a respiratory illness?” I wondered. I believe the authorities didn’t want the public buying and hoarding the few face masks the world had in its inventory. These were needed in hospitals. The authorities lied for a good reason, but they still lied.

I wasn’t surprised at how unprepared we—meaning all western countries—were for this pandemic. We just aren’t that good at long-term planning, especially for events that seem to be in the far future. So, there was no stockpile of necessary supplies and equipment. No “wise” nation had the foresight to ready itself for this disaster. We had let the free market with its “just-in-time” inventory management techniques guide preparation for our pandemic response. We somehow believed a shortage of a vital supplies would easily be remedied if the demand only said, “We need more of those things.”

“It will take six months for supply chains to adjust to manufacture what we need,” I thought. We could say that people in governments really didn’t understand supply chains, hence they screwed up.

Mr. Trump received a lot of criticism for supposedly not following some master plan concocted by Mr. Bush or Mr. Obama. But that criticism was probably more political than actual. There really wasn’t a master plan by any western government. It seemed that every nation was making things up as they went along. But some nations were better with their on-the-fly plans than others.

Spring meant more time outside for me and my four-year-old son. He was a little puzzled at why all the playground equipment was suddenly blocked off. As knowledge increased about COVID-19, the playgrounds were reopen. COVID doesn’t spread very well by surface contact and outdoor activities. Governments were learning and adjusting their protocols. This change should have given confidence to many citizens that governments really don’t want to kill our pleasures just for the sake of killing our pleasures.

My elderly mother was living in a seniors’ home. And this home was locked down for four months. No outside activities or visitors for the residents. While my mother stoically accepted the protocols as necessary, she was needing some time away from her building. By the end of the summer, they allowed seniors to visit with their families outside the home. That was a great relief to her.

Being an introvert, I was not affected by the lockdown too much. But I could see extraverts having psychological problems: they really need to be with people. My son’s basketball league was coming to a close, and COVID meant them not playing their last three or four games. My wife likes her South Sudanese community. She willingly stopped going to their events, which became a lot fewer anyways. My family was OK in this lockdown.

Reminiscing of when I was 20 years old, I too would have gone a little crazy not being around my buddies and having a good time. I might have been one of the early detractors of COVID protocols. At best, my younger self’s compliance to the protocols might have been 50%.

When that first lockdown was lifted, I could see people were happier. We do need social interaction.

By this time, the statisticians around COVID deemed about 1% of COVID infections resulted in a death. This is much higher than influenza. There was still an unknown number of long-haulers, who have varying long-term effects after their infection.

And then we went into the second wave. If nothing else, this second wave proved that interventions and restrictions do work in minimizing the spread of COVID-19. When interventions are turned on, infections go down, even without full compliance of citizenry. When interventions are turned off, infections go up. This math/science is really that simple.

The left-leaning media seemed to be treating each COVID death as something that was avoidable—and could blame on Mr. Trump. The medical profession seemed more interested in their ICU departments at the expense of all the other things that keep a society running well. The level of compliance we got during the first lockdown was not attainable in the second and subsequent waves. In fact, we got a reversal of attitude from many demographics. Like it or not, the number of people who believe we should just let COVID run its natural course increased as time went on.

I got vaccinated. My last two flus had been hard on me. And I had had a previous viral infection that left me as a long-hauler, which took me 12 years to fully recover from. So I thought if COVID comes to me, I would stand a good chance of being the 1% dead or a long hauler. But I waited. When the elderly at the seniors’ homes were not dying off after their vaccinations, that’s when I got mine.

I understand the reluctance of those not wanting to be vaccinated. The vaccines are new technology, and new technologies often have unintended consequences. There could be long-term effects we don’t fully understand because we have not had any long- term testing of these new vaccines. We should not be surprised if 15 years from now, the vaccinated might have a higher cancer rate than the unvaccinated. If so, we should also not be surprised if the government and pharmaceutical industry will try to cover up this data. Or maybe there will be no effects 15 years later. Who really knows?

So, the decision should become a weighing of good and bad outcomes of vaccination against non- vaccination. For me, the better decision was being vaccinated. But I suspect too many people already had their minds made up before conducting any reasonable analysis. They distorted the pros and cons of the two options to fit their pre-existing opinion.

But the reluctance to use face masks and to limit social gatherings is beyond my comprehension. Face masks are such small sacrifices for people to make to help other people not get sick. The discomfort of a face mask is probably equivalent to wearing a bra or a necktie. Face masks are certainly much easier than high-heeled shoes. And there are no side effects with face masks. And they can be easily removed when one is alone. 

I had one Medium contributor cite a paper that face masks only prevent an infection 46% of the time. So, he deemed masks totally useless. Very typical thinking of much of the world: either one extreme or the other; there is no middle ground. But he was also an experienced engineer. Surely, he must realize the substituting a 0.46 for a 1.00 in an exponential function makes a big difference in how many people get infected.

On one level, the reluctance to use face masks is one of many signs that we—the people—really don’t care about other people. As an example, consider the enforcement of our traffic laws. How many of our fellow citizens would stop obeying current traffic rules if there were no enforcement? Answer: Enough to give our streets and roads many more traffic accidents, injuries, and deaths. These aggressive drivers are more motivated by traffic tickets and losing their driver’s license than operating a vehicle in such a way that is safe for everyone else. Maybe we just don’t care!

There has been lots of psychological study on this matter. In a quick summary, such drivers believe that their own risky behavior won’t cause more accidents, injuries, or death. If accident rates do increase, it will be because of other aggressive drivers. But all aggressive drivers don’t believe they cause accidents. Like aggressive driving, the reluctance to use face masks is just another fault of our human nature in that we believe we are small gods, above the physical and psychological forces that surround us.

On a higher level, the reluctance to use face masks and vaccinations has become a political tool for several distinct demographics to unite politically. The face mask and the vaccination have become symbols of which political tribe one belongs to. To many citizens, the merits of these interventions are less important than showing loyalty to their particular tribe.

Doug Ford, premier of Ontario, said it very well in a quote that I am going to paraphrase: “COVID means we can either sit in a pub or we can send our kids to school. But we can’t do both.” So many layers to this astute and concise comment.

Part of the challenge epidemiologists have with their mathematical models is the uncertainty of how many citizens are going to comply with their recommendations. One has to wonder if nearly all citizens had taken these three reasonable precautions—(1) work from home if possible, (2) limit public indoor activities, and (3) wear face masks in public—what would our COVID numbers look like today? My hunch is that lockdowns and forcing vaccinations would not be all that necessary if everyone had followed these three rules to the best of their abilities. But instead, a significant minority of us decided not to try out this experiment.

I had a good chat with my anti-vaxxer friend, Les. A couple of months previously, he went through a terrible bout with COVID. He was close to being in hospital. Despite this experience, he is still adamant that his freedom is more important than society getting control of this disease.

“What about the health care workers who are overstressed?” I asked.

“That’s what they signed up for when they took this occupation. If they don’t like it, they can quit.”

“What about the people whose elective surgeries are postponed?”

“We all have our hells to go through. I had a week of severe COVID.”

“In a way, your decision is easy. We could argue that freedom is more important than a 1% mortality rate and some inconveniences. But what if the mortality rate hits 10%? Or 20%? The next mutation could be just like the Spanish flu. At what point do you put on the mask?”

Les did not answer this question.

In mid-August, COVID hit our house. My teenage son was the first to get a “cold”—in the middle of a hot summer. Then my wife. Then my five-year-old. About a week later, I—the only vaccinated one— succumbed. We were fortunate that all four of us had only minor cold symptoms.

I believe COVID came to our house through the teenager. He is fearful of COVID and hadn’t been all that social this summer. But he liked going to the public gym to work out on the weight machines. He said he was careful. He said the gym had fewer people and social distancing was well practiced. He did not to go close to the aerobic section of the gym. But the gym still is an enclosed space that requires ventilation.

I’ve been hearing the scientists talk about “viral load” a lot lately. It seems most of us could probably handle a few COVID viruses in our bodies. We will build up antibodies to defeat the viruses before those few viruses can multiply to the point of disabling our respiratory system. But if more viruses get into our body during this incubation period, we might not have enough antibodies in time to defeat the multiplied load.

What this means—I think—is we’re probably not going to catch enough COVID aerosol by crossing paths with an unmasked, asymptomatic carrier in a shopping mall. But if we cross this kind of path five times a day for a week or follow too closely for 10 minutes behind such a person, our probability of uncontrolled infection increases. Limiting our public indoor interactions is just a wise thing to do.

Likewise wearing masks probably won’t help much if four of us are having a two-hour conversation in a living room and one of us is asymptomatic COVID. Too much viral load in that room eventually gets around or through the masks we are wearing. Instead, let’s take the conversation outside or limit it to a half hour or limit it to two people. Common sense, right? You still get the psychological benefit of interaction with people you enjoy, and your risk stays low.

I got my COVID from staying in a house with my three infected family members. That viral load was too much for me and my vaccination. I believe that my vaccination reduced COVID’s impact on me.

One mystery to me is the reluctance of epidemiologists to make a claim on how long our immunity lasts after we get COVID or the vaccination. Various websites say three to 12 months, but maybe they don’t really know. I have not heard of anyone getting COVID twice, in my anecdotal world or from the mass media. And the pharmaceutical industry is lobbying for booster shots.

The world is moving toward a vaccination passport. Whether this is right or not is irrelevant. If we—as a society—decide through due democratic process that vaccine passports are indeed the new way, so be it. We make these kinds of decisions all the time. Just because 25% of the population loses some freedom, that is too bad for them. People can make their choice between the vaccination or not being allowed into certain social situations.

Private entities can also use vaccination passports. If a sports team decides to allow only vaccinated fans through its turnstiles, that would the decision of the team, not the government. If an airline wants passengers with vaccination passports, that would be decision of the airline. If a competing airline wants to target the anti-vaxxers, let them sell flights to customers with no masks and no vaccines. Such passengers should enjoy one another’s company, and maybe a few formerly healthy people will learn something when they get their full COVID load. If the majority of customers want stores with COVID protocols, they should let businesses know we won’t be their customers. Let the business world figure out its own COVID protocols before the heavy hand of government comes down.

I got my vaccine passport last week. I am not impressed. It is a document that just about any unvaccinated person can pass off by using their vaccinated friend’s ID. But as time passes, this ID will become stronger. It seems strange that one of the main mantras of the anti-vax crowd is less government intervention in our lives. But by not freely choosing to wear a face mask in public settings and not limiting indoor public activities, these freedom-loving people actually caused more loss of their own freedom.

Limiting indoor public interactions is undoubtedly hurting too many businesses. COVID risk minimization by customers, the lockdowns associated with COVID, and restrictions placed on businesses after lockdown just mean it’s not a good time to be in many businesses.

In Canada, the federal and provincial governments offered aid to businesses. I should admit that I don’t know much about these programs, how businesses could get COVID funding, or how effective the programs were. But it seemed these programs were concocted without a lot of analysis. In regular times, such a business assistance program would take three months of parliamentary proceedings. But in COVID times, this program needed only the cabinet put it through in a week. We have to wonder, right?

In my ideal world, the government should have designed a pandemic relief plan well in advance of the pandemic. Economists, sociologists, and business leaders need to spend a few months working on this plan. When the pandemic comes, roll out the plan and work its directives. Simple. Of course, all plans have a tendency to require some adjustments as new information becomes available. But this approach of pre-planning is much better than devising a quick plan after the crisis hits. There is a reason why construction sites have blueprints; we should have a blueprint for an economic plan for when a pandemic hits.

How would Tiered Democratic Governance handle something like COVID-19?

Before I answer that, here’s a few quick points. Tiered Democratic Governance (TDG) has no political parties or noisy election campaigns. Voters are educated about voting for good character and capacity for governance rather than using the voting criteria used today to cast a ballot. Elected representatives will employ the process of consultation—the combining of knowledge, experience, and wisdom of all the representatives into one voice. And these representatives will have the experience of their trusted advisors to guide them.

In the TDG, elected representatives will not be overly concerned with their re-election. Rather, they will be focused on what’s best for society, giving serious consideration to several options. They will study what worked well or not-so-well in other localities. Hence, they are more able to prepare for a pandemic in advance than today’s elected representatives are able to. Here is COVID outcome with a TDG government:

The TDG will more likely have stockpiled necessary medical supplies and equipment for a pandemic.

The TDG will more likely have an economic plan ready to roll out for a pandemic.

The TDG will be more trusted by the citizenry. So, when the TDG says “wear face masks and minimize indoor public activities,” many more citizens will willingly abide by those directives.

The alternative is to keep doing things the same way we have done things in the past and hope that this same way produces a different result when the same thing happens in the future. Does this make any sense to you?

COVID 19 has shown us that it really is time for a new kind of democracy. You have a choice to keep the old democracy or build the new one. It is your choice.

Published on Medium 2021

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