It’s time for a special Sunday COVID Town Hall. Like any good town hall, let’s make this a two-way conversation. Here’s what I’m thinking:
- It’s worse than you think: In our country, nearly 300,000 people have succumbed to COVID-19. But it’s worse than that, because that number doesn’t include those who died without a COVID test and those whose care was compromised by delayed appointments, postponed tests, canceled surgeries, fear of coming to the hospital, and system overload. The death and suffering directly attributable to COVID-19 is just part of the tragedy.
- Beware of false choices: Many of us have been pushing for Connecticut to ban indoor dining, as other states have done, to address a key cause of disease spread. In response, the dining and hospitality industry have pushed back, arguing that restrictions harm their businesses, particularly absent government support. But we don’t have to choose between restaurants and public health: to help restaurants we need to control the pandemic so people feel safe dining out again. We should offer government financial support to help struggling businesses so no one needs to choose between shutting down and paying their rent. Let’s each do our part to support restaurants. Let’s dine outdoors when weather permits, let’s order takeout, and let’s tip generously.
- It’s not all bad: Wonderful things are happening. Consider Zoom and FaceTime: Interview days have new energy. Drs. Federman and Duffy are at the same morning reports. I get to see my 97-year-old mother in New Jersey every night. And consider the awe-inspiring science that brought us novel, safe, effective mRNA vaccines less than a year after SARS CoV-2 was sequenced. And consider this: with everyone wearing masks and social distancing, there’s very little flu and no one seems to be catching colds.
- Keep it simple: By now it’s clear that people contract COVID-19 mainly by inhalation, so we no longer need to wipe down groceries, wear space suits in the hospital, or take our clothes off the second we get home. We can stop wasting money on unnecessary deep cleaning. We just need to wear masks and follow social distancing rules. We could bring the pandemic under control quickly if everyone did their part.
- End silly restrictions: The risk of spreading COVID is far greater indoors. We should encourage healthy outdoor activities like walking, running, hiking, and biking. Closing parks does little to control the pandemic and can make things worse by driving people indoors. Just bundle up, wear your masks, and keep your distance.
- Nix the shaming: Yes, some people deserve shame, like major public figures who invite hundreds of people to indoor holiday parties. It’s also infuriating when people who should know better disparage masks and—no surprise—get sick (and then get special treatment). But, shaming is counterproductive. First, shaming can inhibit people from getting tested and treated and, as a result, contribute to disease spread. Second, it’s not fair: the pandemic has hit vulnerable populations particularly hard and many people are forced to work and live in dangerous conditions that make it impossible to stay safe. Finally, shaming doesn’t work as a public health strategy. Instead, let’s encourage safe behaviors and advocate to protect the vulnerable.
- Smart policy saves lives: Vermont has some of the lowest COVID rates in the country, because the state tests aggressively, houses homeless people in motels, protects prisoners and nursing home patients, and thinks carefully about when to open and close the economy. Individual responsibility alone is insufficient to fight a lethal threat.
- The end is coming: In just a few days, we’ll start taking shots and, within months, millions of Americans will be vaccinated. Now’s the time to hunker down: The more we do now to keep each other safe, the more loved ones we’ll have around to celebrate with us when the pandemic ends.
- Speak up: I’d lose my mind if I had to hold my tongue with the pandemic spiraling out of control. Our advocacy has gotten attention and we need to keep using our collective voices to harness the power of science and reason to fight the pandemic.
- We’re human: We each have indispensable social needs and isolation is part of what makes the pandemic so intolerable, especially around the holidays. We miss visiting our families, lingering over meals, and hugging each other. We miss seeing the beautiful faces of our friends, hiding behind the masks. Let’s acknowledge what we’re missing, and let’s do everything we can to nurture community. Let’s check in on one another. Let’s have fun together, safely. We may be nearing the end, but it’s still a slog and we still have months to go. But before we know it, we’ll reach the end safely; so let’s gear up and march through this slog, side-by-side, together.
And that’s it for our Sunday Town Hall, at least my part. Let me know what you think and enjoy your day. I’m heading out for a bike ride.
PS For Further Reading:
- Excess Deaths From COVID-19 and Other Causes, March-July 2020
- Pandemic Fatigue, Meet Pandemic Anger
- What Has Lockdown Done to Us?
- This Is the Test of Our Lifetimes
- American Elites Still Don’t Understand How COVID-19 Works