Saturday, March 14, 2020

Problem List

I was listening to the radio, and a local radio program has devoted pretty much the entire week to COVID-19. One thing that stood out for me was how, even though everyone on the program was calm while on-air, the whole exercise seemed primed to stoke people's fears. Mainly because the focus seemed to be squarely on what wasn't being done, who wasn't being protected and the other shortcomings of the response thus far. And this seems to be what drives people to panic.

In a past life, when I worked with children, one of the veterans told me the basic problem with attempting to give children a "don't do drugs" message. "All they hear," he told me, "is 'do drugs'." And a conversation of the response that gives equal time to the level of effort and the shortcomings of those efforts seems to work in the same way. And there are so many examples of stories that enumerate perceived or actual shortcomings of the response that they've become hard to avoid. Recently I read an online posting by someone effectively accusing every mid-sized or larger business in the area that was still open of gross negligence, because of something that they had read online in which someone had crunched some numbers and concluded that one in every four-hundred people in Washington State was likely infected with the virus. Well, crunched some numbers and made a number of assumptions, it turned out. When I pointed out that some of those assumptions (like the one that the deaths that had taken place were more or less evenly distributed across the state) were demonstrably untrue, there was silence. Which I understand. I'm not a public-health official, and don't have the initials "M.D." after my name. Another voice in the noise isn't what people need or want when it comes to lowering their anxiety.

I wonder if it's possible to escape. Any response less than a perfect one is going to have shortcomings. And since one can't please all of the people all of the time, there are going to be people for whom whatever response is enacted is not the right one. And their recitation of the the problems that they see becomes the basis for people understanding that not enough is being done, because it may not be evident to them that not everyone is on the same page.

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