01 December 2020

2020 Vision

"I try to find the good in every day with what we have been handed although it's sometimes hard to do."

--Rebecca J. Kurzon, M.D. 

As the last page of the current calendar is on display, how should we go about assessing the unimaginable year 2020?  A period in which a deadly global virus continues attacking vulnerable populations and those who are undisciplined in their social behavior.   

Yes, Covid-19 fatigue is setting in with social distancing, wearing a mask in public (often below the nose), and hand-washing practiced less than nine months ago.  The weather becomes a factor in some locations forcing individuals inside with less exposure to sunshine and fresh air.  

How to assess?

Perhaps with the distance of time, we'll see the past twelve months as an epochal moment when businesses, governments, and educational institutions discovered they aren't in control after all.  That a collective arrogance, what Jim Collins calls "a hubris born of success," came up against an uncontrollable force destabilizing our social systems and economic structures.

Essayist Eric Weiner observed, "The pandemic has made a mockery of our grand plans.  Graduations, weddings, job prospects--poof, gone, rolling back down the hill like Sisyphus's boulder."    

Thankfully there was help when we needed it.  Our attention moved away from captains of industry and celebrities to the doctors, nurses, EMT personnel, grocery clerks, truck drivers, and delivery workers that kept society functioning during the early days of the pandemic--and still do. 

An undesirable appointment

There are two types of appointments.  The first you initiate by calling your doctor or dentist.  Or scheduling your car or truck to be serviced.  This is a routine of life.  

The other is like meeting up with someone or something not previously planned. Think loss of employment or a death in the family.


On 13 March 2020 U.S. President Donald J. Trump declared the coronavirus pandemic to be a national emergency.  Other leaders issued similar declarations for their respective countries.  

Was that type of action something new?  No. Former President, Barack Obama, used that same presidential authority for the H1N1 influenza pandemic in 2009.  

Covid-19 is an appointment not of our choosing.

A paradoxical season

Consider the following:

o  An economic turnaround is underway.  The total U.S. nonfarm payroll rose by 245,000 in November and the unemployment rate dropped to 6.7 percent from a record high 14.7 percent in April of this year. However, the pace of improvement in the labor markets has moderated in recent months.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, notable job gains occurred 
in transportation and warehousing, professional and business services, and health care. 

Employment declined in government and retail trade.  

o  Industry experts say that restaurants, hotels, and airlines are years away from a full recovery.  The National Restaurant Association estimates 100,000 restaurants closing this year.  Dining and travel depend heavily on capacity and consumers being confident of their safety.

o  The Wall Street Journal reported that with new cases rising again more livelihoods will likely be damaged.  The losses are most acute among service-sector businesses--especially smaller ones.  Many have failed and in the next several months more will follow.  Jobs won't be there for millions when the upsurge ends. 

o  The U.S. housing market is literally on fire as home sales rose to a 14-year high in October.  This trend is driven by low mortgage rates and an abrupt shift in living preferences.

o  Targeted not blanketed lockdowns may be the directive of choice for government officials over the next several months to avoid further disruption and damage to the economy.  

Medical updates
It's one thing to die from a disease, an accident, or old age.  However, it's another thing to be scared to death.  Follow the recommended precautions and pay attention to reliable sources of information about Covid-19. 
o  A vaccine from Pfizer or Moderna could be available within weeks or months instead of years.  Yet its success depends on how many are willing to be vaccinated.  For example, in the 2018-2019 flu season, 62 percent of children six months to 17 years got the flu shot.  Among adults 45 percent got vaccines. (USA Facts)  Will those percentages improve for the coronavirus vaccine?  

Vaccinations, not vaccines, save lives. 

o  The likelihood that a coronavirus infection will prove fatal has dropped by nearly a third since April due to improved treatment, researchers at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) reported. In the United States, COVID-19 now kills about 0.6% of people infected with the virus, compared with around 0.9% early in the pandemic, stated IHME Director Dr. Christopher Murray.

While strained at times for help and equipment, doctors and medical staff are more knowledgeable about coronavirus and treatments including the use of blood thinners and oxygen support.  Hospital stays are shorter which is more good news.  (Reuters)

o  It's one thing to die from a disease, an accident, or old age.  However, it's another thing to be scared to death.  Follow the recommended precautions and pay attention to reliable sources of information about Covid-19. 

Education

o  Remote learning for children, teens, and college students is uneven when it comes to quality and results.  
The average student could begin the next school year having lost as much as a third of the expected progress from the previous year in reading and half of the expected progress in math, according to a working paper from NWEA, a nonprofit organization, and scholars at Brown University and the University of Virginia.

It's a burden for middle and lower-income households to supervise their kids' online education.    

The rich are different

o  Are we all in this together? In the spring of this year, New York City's population decreased around five percent with residents leaving the wealthier zip codes of Manhattan. (New York Times)  Higher-income households have greater resources to manage residential options, online schooling, and home offices. 

Increasing resolve

So how do we endure the unendurable?  How do we find certainty in an uncertain universe?  If we crave a return to normal, how do we then define normal?  What does courage look like today? 

It's important to ask the right questions as there are no easy answers.

How we see something, including our self-awareness, determines how we're likely to respond to the coronavirus.

During our annual eye exam in November, I asked Dr. Kurzon (quoted above) how she was doing.  A consummate professional my ophthalmologist responded not with some tired refrain but with optimism and realism--"I try to find the good ... it's sometimes hard to do."   
 
Dr. Kurzon's words are encouraging.  They remind us that while infection can be contagious so can compassion and decency.

As the instructor explained to a young leadership class, "Every conquest prepares us for the next conflict, endowing us with all the needful equipment."

May that counsel prove true in the unwanted appointment with Covid-19.  



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