01 May 2020

A Pandemic Polarity

"We started knowing nothing.  We know a lot now, but we still don't know everything."

--Dr. John Ioannidis, Stanford School of Medicine

Is the COVID-19 disease, and its uneven devastation, a worrying problem to be solved, or a health and economic polarity to manage?   

As of 30 April 2020, there are 3.1 million COVID-19 cases worldwide and 227,638 deaths.  Total cases in the U.S. are at 1.03 million and 60,967 deaths. (Johns Hopkins for Systems Science and Engineering; USA Facts)

Heading into May U.S. unemployment claims rose to more than 30 million as the coronavirus pandemic continued taking a financial and emotional toll on American life.

What's the status of other diseases?

Data for 2018-2019 show 35.5 million estimated cases of influenza in the U.S. with 490,561 hospitalizations and 34,157 deaths.  Flu vaccines are available and highly recommended at the beginning of each season.  (CDC.gov)

Nearly half the world's population lives at risk from malaria. In 2018 there were 405,000 deaths from this disease. The overwhelming majority are among children five years of age and younger.  And 80-90% each year are in rural Sub-Saharan Africa.  The nature of malaria, a single-cell parasite, evades the human immune system.  (Center for Strategic and International Studies; CDC.gov; and WHO.int)

Smallpox is the only human infectious disease to have been eradicated.  (World Health Assembly)

Problem or polarity?

In his book, "Polarity Management," Dr. Barry Johnson, offers criteria that are helpful in knowing how to decide:

1.  Is the difficulty on-going?  

Problems to solve have a solution that can be considered an endpoint in a process, i.e. they are solvable.

Polarities to manage don't get "solved." They're ongoing.  We're always in the process of solving them, but they don't have a clear, endpoint solution.   There's a never-ending shift in emphasis or focus from one pole (safety) to the other (work).  "Managing" is perhaps the best way to describe this arrangement.

2.  Are there two poles which are interdependent?

The solution in problems to solve can stand alone.  Polarities to manage, require a shift in emphasis between opposites such that neither can stand alone.  It's a both/and difficulty.  The pair are involved in an on-going, balancing process over an extended period of time. 

For example ...


Until there's a vaccine, the wisdom required of government and business leaders is to manage the increasing tension (polarity) of a carefully reopened economy while protecting the most vulnerable in the population.  All within the framework of civil liberties.

Like Malcolm Turnbull, the former Australian prime minister said recently, "There would be nothing more tragic than if, in our efforts to preserve our health we were to lose our freedom."      

What are people thinking?

In addition to tracking progress on COVID-19 treatments and vaccines, it's also important to keep up with the public opinion trendlines as consumers are 70% of the U. S. economy.  

When does the public want business to reopen?  As of the end of April, here are what pollsters found:

o 62% of U.S. adults are worried businesses in their community will reopen too early compared to 38% who are worried they'll reopen too slowly.

o 52% of U.S. adults say the coronavirus outbreak is more of a health crisis, while 47% say it's more of an economic crisis.  The latter group is split between Republicans at 70% and Democrats at 24%.

o 45% of U.S. adults say non-elective surgeries or doctor offices should reopen immediately in their area.

o 41% of U.S. adults expect their life will be mostly back to normal in three months.

o  7% of the public agree sports venues, concerts, and large gatherings should reopen immediately.

o An overwhelming majority of the public isn't ready to fully reopen.  More than 9 in 10 U. S. adults are opposed to opening up everything.  But many would be okay to see some easing, with just under half (45%) wanting to see non-elective surgeries return immediately.

o The public is more worried about the health crisis than the economic one.  58% of U.S. adults say they're more worried about their own health versus 40% who said their economic prospects.  

But as more households see their finances strained by the contracting economy, that number could shift soon.

o Low-income workers are most worried about health risks over economic prospects.  Among workers making under $50,000, 18% said they have lost their jobs, compared to 6% of workers earning over $100,000.  Yet low-income households are more concerned with health risks right now.  Highly-paid workers are the ones most concerned about their economic prospects.

o Republicans are worried we'll reopen too slow.  Democrats worry it will be too fast.  85% of Democrats worry businesses could reopen too quicky versus 45% of Republicans.  On the other hand, 57% of Republicans worry businesses will reopen too slowly (15% of Democrats).  

Source:  FORTUNE/Survey Monkey poll was conducted among a national sample of 4,717 adults in the U.S. between April 25-28.  The model error estimate is plus or minus 3 percentage points.  Findings weighted for age, race, sex, education, and geography. 


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