For Those About To Flock, We Salute You
Churches, Trump rallies, and protests provide a natural experiment in the spread of COVID-19.
Yesterday, America set a new record of confirmed cases of COVID-19 illness. According to Worldometer, more than 47,000 cases were recorded in just one day on June 26th. That is a clear reversal of the trends that had been underway since early May. During that time, new cases were relatively flat. Starting about a week and a half ago, the caseload started to swell, and here we are. That’s around the time that several states tried to re-open for business again.
I can’t blame them for wanting to try, but it's becoming clear that we need to remain vigilant. We have much better information than we did before. With every attempt to reopen for business, we learn what works and what doesn’t work. We have big data to show that masks work. We have more big data to show that social distancing works.
With few exceptions, I’m still holed up at home with my family. We have friends we trust that we can go hiking with. We have neighbors we trust with kids our kids can play with. Here in Utah, we are playing it safe and the records show it. The fatality rate here is about 52 deaths per 1 million people. In New York, that’s more like 1,600. I work with my comfort level and follow my gut.
I’ve seen the debate over opening churches again. I have a fair understanding of the legal issues and I think that the churches are within their rights to open again if they want to. But they must understand the risks. I think that if they want to open again, it’s on them. They’re going to pay the price if they fail to adhere to protocols that have been proven to work.
I hear that the GOP is planning to go ahead with their convention. I say let them do it. Trump had his rally in Tulsa last week. A few people tested positive for COVID, and they may turn out to be OK. Those people who choose to congregate are braver than I. I wouldn’t attend a rally or a convention. I still work from home.
This isn’t a hoax or some conspiracy to deprive President Trump of a win in November. This is a global pandemic with clear science to back up the protocols. Scientists have found that they can test for virus load at the water treatment plants. They’ve found that the virus counts in our poop tracks two weeks behind caseload. Similarly, caseload tracks with attempts to reopen for business.
If we want to get an idea of where the risk is, let’s look at the business community. People who invest money assess risks. When we look at how a business has changed, we can see where the risks are perceived. Inan Dogan at Yahoo Finance wrote one of the first business articles I read on how investors perceived the pandemic. In his article, Hell Is Coming: Here is the Mathematical Proof, he was expecting hospitals to be overwhelmed with cases. They were and many still are. I noticed that back then, he was praising President Trump for doing a great job, too.
What is Inan Dogan saying now? “There Won’t Be A Second Wave”.
We have anecdotal evidence that most Americans aren’t very mindful of the social distancing guidelines and a large number of Americans aren’t wearing masks properly, yet the virus is spreading to fewer numbers of people in each iteration (its R0 is below the critical 1 level). At the end of April the number of daily new cases was around 30K. At the end of May, it stands at 20K.
That was 15 days ago. He’s right in the first half of that paragraph, and he was right about the trends until now. He also expressed some unhappiness with “incompetent leadership” with the President and many state governors. That lack of mindfulness is bearing out in the numbers we’ve seen in the last two weeks since that article was published. In the context of the pandemic, our fate is clearly determined by our choices.
At the company I work for, we’re planning to work from home indefinitely. I’ve been told to go back to work and pick up my stuff and take it home next month. I have not seen a definite return to work date at all from my company. They are very serious about worker safety at my workplace. My home is my workplace now, and my employer isn’t the only one to take this seriously.
Microsoft is permanently closing all of its brick and mortar stores. Apple has tried to reopen some of their stores only to close them back down again. Most restaurants around my town are takeout or delivery only. There is no evidence that COVID is foodborne, so takeout and delivery make sense. Gyms and recreation centers remain mostly closed.
It’s a sad state of affairs to be sure. I’m just happy that I can work from home. I’m grateful that I’m still getting paid and have not had an interruption in my finances. I’m working hard to make sure I can keep my job. I’m being mindful of my interactions with others. I know that I may not be aware of the stress they are experiencing, so I’m careful not to add to their stress. I use light humor when I can.
I find that many of the customers I work with are working from home, too. I work in the IT industry, so we are well prepared for working from home. Our tools are built to work from a distance. We use Virtual Private Networks, Remote Desktop, ssh, WebEx, and Zoom. We use the phone, email, and SMS. We were already using these tools for years before the pandemic in emergencies, now we are using them on a daily basis.
If Congress really wants to rebuild the economy, then they need to think of broadband as an essential utility. The Electronic Frontier Foundation says that there is a bill in Congress that would help to fund universal fiber broadband to every address in the country. The pandemic has exposed the digital divide, and the EFF says we need to close that gap and make it a thing of the past. We have the technology and the means to run fiber to every home and business in America. The Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act (H.R. 7302) could make gigabit internet access the norm in America.
I believe that the pandemic will only make us stronger. Yes, we will spend many years in recovery, but we will have learned more about who we are as a nation and how we want to treat each other. We can choose to be hard on each other or we can choose to lift each other up. That helping hand you give today might be returned one day to save your life. You never know who’s life you’re saving when you help someone else.
I also believe that people are within their rights to congregate and meet together, even in a pandemic. If you want to open your church again, do it. If you want to go to a rally, do it. If you want to go to the clubs and the bars, do it. To me, it’s all data and that data will only help us to learn more about the virus that causes COVID. I’d prefer not to be a data point in the research, but if you want to be one, I won’t stop you, I’ll salute you.