Cartoon – Importance of Change

How a Results Oriented Outlook Conquers Negative Thinking | Neways Center

America Is Trapped in a Pandemic Spiral

https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2020/09/pandemic-intuition-nightmare-spiral-winter/616204/

America Is Trapped in a Pandemic Spiral - The Atlantic

As the U.S. heads toward the winter, the country is going round in circles, making the same conceptual errors that have plagued it since spring.

Army ants will sometimes walk in circles until they die. The workers navigate by smelling the pheromone trails of workers in front of them, while laying down pheromones for others to follow. If these trails accidentally loop back on themselves, the ants are trapped. They become a thick, swirling vortex of bodies that resembles a hurricane as viewed from space. They march endlessly until they’re felled by exhaustion or dehydration. The ants can sense no picture bigger than what’s immediately ahead. They have no coordinating force to guide them to safety. They are imprisoned by a wall of their own instincts. This phenomenon is called the death spiral. I can think of no better metaphor for the United States of America’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The U.S. enters the ninth month of the pandemic with more than 6.3 million confirmed cases and more than 189,000 confirmed deaths. The toll has been enormous because the country presented the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus with a smorgasbord of vulnerabilities to exploit. But the toll continues to be enormous—every day, the case count rises by around 40,000 and the death toll by around 800—because the country has consistently thought about the pandemic in the same unproductive ways.

Many Americans trusted intuition to help guide them through this disaster. They grabbed onto whatever solution was most prominent in the moment, and bounced from one (often false) hope to the next. They saw the actions that individual people were taking, and blamed and shamed their neighbors. They lapsed into magical thinking, and believed that the world would return to normal within months. Following these impulses was simpler than navigating a web of solutions, staring down broken systems, and accepting that the pandemic would rage for at least a year.

These conceptual errors were not egregious lies or conspiracy theories, but they were still dangerous. They manifested again and again, distorting the debate around whether to stay at home, wear masks, or open colleges. They prevented citizens from grasping the scope of the crisis and pushed leaders toward bad policies. And instead of overriding misleading intuitions with calm and considered communication, those leaders intensified them. The country is now trapped in an intuition nightmare: Like the spiraling ants, Americans are walled in by their own unhelpful instincts, which lead them round and round in self-destructive circles.

“The grand challenge now is, how can we adjust our thinking to match the problem before us?” says Lori Peek, a sociologist at the University of Colorado at Boulder who studies disasters. Here, then, are nine errors of intuition that still hamstring the U.S. pandemic response, and a glimpse at the future if they continue unchecked. The time to break free is now. Our pandemic summer is nearly over. Now come fall, the season of preparation, and winter, the season of survival. The U.S. must reset its mindset to accomplish both. Ant death spirals break only when enough workers accidentally blunder away, creating trails that lead the spiraling workers to safety. But humans don’t have to rely on luck; unlike ants, we have a capacity for introspection.

The spiral begins when people forget that controlling the pandemic means doing many things at once. The virus can spread before symptoms appear, and does so most easily through five P’s: people in prolonged, poorly ventilated, protection-free proximity. To stop that spread, this country could use measures that other nations did, to great effect: close nonessential businesses and spaces that allow crowds to congregate indoors; improve ventilation; encourage mask use; test widely to identify contagious people; trace their contacts; help them isolate themselves; and provide a social safety net so that people can protect others without sacrificing their livelihood. None of these other nations did everything, but all did enough things right—and did them simultaneously. By contrast, the U.S. engaged in …

1. A Serial Monogamy of Solutions

Stay-at-home orders dominated March. Masks were fiercely debated in April. Contact tracing took its turn in May. Ventilation is having its moment now. “It’s like we only have attention for only one thing at a time,” says Natalie Dean, a biostatistician at the University of Florida.

As often happens, people sought easy technological fixes for complex societal problems. For months, President Donald Trump touted hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 cure, even as rigorous studies showed that it isn’t one. In August, he switched his attention to convalescent plasma—the liquid fraction of a COVID-19 survivor’s blood that might contain virus-blocking antibodies. There’s still no clear evidence that this century-old approach can treat COVID-19 either, despite grossly misstated claims from FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn (for which he later apologized). More generally, drugs might save some of the very sickest patients, as dexamethasone does, or shorten a hospital stay, as remdesivir does, but they are unlikely to offer outright cures. “It’s so reassuring to think that a magic-bullet treatment is out there and if we just wait, it’ll come and things will be normal,” Dean says.

Other strategies have merit, but are wrongly dismissed for being imperfect. In July, Carl Bergstrom, an epidemiologist and a sociologist of science at the University of Washington, argued that colleges cannot reopen safely without testing all students upon entry. “The gotcha question I’ve handled most from reporters since is: This school did entry testing, so why did they get an outbreak?” he says. It’s because such testing is necessary for a safe reopening, but not sufficient. “If you do it and screw everything else up, you’ll still have a big outbreak,” Bergstrom adds.

This brief attention span is understandable. Adherents of the scientific method are trained to isolate and change one variable at a time. Academics are walled off into different disciplines that rarely connect. Journalists constantly look for new stories, shifting attention to the next great idea. These factors prime the public to view solutions in isolation, which means imperfections become conflated with uselessness. For example, many critics of masks argued that they provide only partial protection against the virus, that they often don’t fit well, or that people wear them incorrectly. But some protection is clearly better than no protectionAs Dylan Morris of Princeton writes, “X won’t stop COVID on its own is not an argument against doing X.” Instead, it’s an argument for doing X along with other measures. Seat belts won’t prevent all fatal car crashes, but cars also come with airbags and crumple zones. “When we layer things, we give ourselves more wiggle room,” Dean says.

Several experts I’ve talked with have been asked: What now? The question assumes that the pandemic lingers because the U.S. simply hasn’t found the right solution yet. In fact, it lingers because the familiar solutions were never fully implemented. Despite claims from the White House, the U.S. is still not testing enough people. It still doesn’t have enough contact tracers. “We have the playbook, but I think there’s a confusion about what we’ve actually tried and what we’ve just talked about doing,” Dean says. A successful response “is never going to be one thing done perfectly. It’ll be a lot of different things done well enough.” That resilience disappears if we create…

2. False Dichotomies

A world of black and white is easier to handle than one awash with grays. But false dichotomies are dangerous. From the start, COVID-19 has been portrayed as a disease that mostly causes mild symptoms in people who quickly recover, and occasionally causes severe illness that leads to hospitalization and death. This two-sided caricature—severe or mild, sick or recovered—has erased the thousands of “long-haulers” who have endured months of debilitating symptoms at home with neither recognition nor care.

Meanwhile, as businesses closed and stay-at-home orders rolled out, “we presumed a trade-off between saving lives and saving the economy,” says Danielle Allen, a political scientist at Harvard. “That was foolishness of the most profound degree.” The two goals were actually aligned: Epidemiologists and economists largely agree that the economy cannot rebound while the pandemic is still raging. By treating the two as opposites, state leaders rushed to reopen, leading a barely contained virus to surge anew.  

Now, as winter looms and the pandemic continues, another dichotomy has emerged: enter another awful lockdown, or let the virus run free. This choice, too, is false. Public-health measures offer a middle road, and even “lockdowns” need not be as overbearing as they were in spring. A city could close higher-risk venues like bars and nightclubs while opening lower-risk ones like retail stores. There’s a “whole control panel of dials” on offer, but “it’s hard to have that conversation when people think of a light switch,” says Lindsay Wiley, a professor of public-health law at American University. “The term lockdown has done a lot of damage.” It exacerbated the false binary between shutting down and opening up, while offering …

3. The Comfort of Theatricality

Stay-at-home orders saved lives by curtailing COVID-19’s spread, and by giving hospitals some breathing room. But the orders were also meant to buy time for the nation to ramp up its public-health defenses. Instead, the White House treated months of physical distancing as a pandemic-ending strategy in itself. “We squandered that time in terms of scaling up testing and contact tracing, enacting policies to protect workers who get infected on the job, getting protective equipment to people in food-processing plants, finding places for people to isolate, offering paid sick leave … We still don’t have those things,” says Julia Marcus, an infectious-disease epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School and regular Atlantic contributor. The country is now facing the fall with many of the same problems that plagued it through the summer.

Showiness is often mistaken for effectiveness. The coronavirus mostly spreads through air rather than contaminated surfaces, but many businesses are nonetheless trying to scrub and bleach their way toward reopening. My colleague Derek Thompson calls this hygiene theater—dramatic moves that appear to offer safety without actually doing so. The same charge applies to temperature checks, which can’t detect the many COVID-19 patients who don’t have a fever. It also applies to the porous and inefficient travel bans that Trump and his allies still tout as policy successes. These tactics might do some good—let’s not conflate imperfect with useless—but they cause harm when they substitute for stronger measures. Theatricality breeds complacency. And by emphasizing solutions that can be easily seen, it exacerbated the American preference for …

4. Personal Blame Over Systemic Fixes

SARS-CoV-2 spread rapidly among America’s overstuffed prisons and understaffed nursing homes, in communities served by overstretched hospitals and underfunded public-health departments, and among Black, Latino, and Indigenous Americans who had been geographically and financially disconnected from health care by decades of racist policies. Without paid sick leave or a living wage, “essential workers” who earn a low, hourly income could not afford to quarantine themselves when they fell ill—and especially not if that would jeopardize the jobs to which their health care is tied. “The things I do to stay safe, they don’t have that as an option,” says Whitney Robinson, a social epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

But tattered social safety nets are less visible than crowded bars. Pushing for universal health care is harder than shaming an unmasked stranger. Fixing systemic problems is more difficult than spewing moralism, and Americans gravitated toward the latter. News outlets illustrated pandemic articles with (often distorted) photos of beaches, even though open-air spaces offer low-risk ways for people to enjoy themselves. Marcus attributes this tendency to America’s puritanical roots, which conflate pleasure with irresponsibility, and which prize shame over support. “The shaming gets codified into bad policy,” she says. Chicago fenced off a beach, and Honolulu closed beaches, parks, and hiking trails, while leaving riskier indoor businesses open.

Moralistic thinking jeopardizes health in two ways. First, people often oppose measures that reduce an individual’s risk—seat belts, condoms, HPV vaccines—because such protections might promote risky behavior. During the pandemic, some experts used such reasoning to question the value of masks, while the University of Michigan’s president argued that testing students widely would offer a “false sense of security.” These paternalistic false-assurance arguments are almost always false themselves. “There’s very little evidence for overcompensation to the point where safety measures do harm,” Bergstrom says.

Second, misplaced moralism can provide cover for bad policies. Many colleges started their semester with in-person teaching and inadequate testing, and are predictably dealing with large outbreaks. UNC Chapel Hill lasted just six days before reverting to remote classes. Administrators have chastised students for behaving irresponsibly, while taking no responsibility for setting them up to faila pattern that will likely continue through the fall as college clusters inevitably grow. “If you put 10,000 [students] in a small space, eating, sleeping, and socializing together, there’ll be an explosion of cases,” Robinson says. “I don’t know what [colleges] were expecting.” Perhaps they fell prey to …

5. The Normality Trap

In times of uncertainty and upheaval, “people crave a return to familiar, predictable rhythms,” says Monica Schoch-Spana, a medical anthropologist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. That pull is especially strong now because the pandemic’s toll is largely invisible. There’s nothing as dramatic as ruined buildings or lapping floodwater to hint that the world has changed. In some circles, returning to normal has been valorized as an act of defiance. That’s a reasonable stance when resisting terrorists, who seek to stoke fear, but a dangerous one when fighting a virus, which doesn’t care.

The powerful desire to re-create an old world can obscure the trade-offs necessary for surviving the new one. Keeping high-risk indoor businesses open, for example, helps the virus spread within a community, which makes reopening schools harder. “If schools are a priority, you have to put them ahead of something. What is that something?” says Bill Hanage, an epidemiologist at Harvard. “In an ideal world, they would be the last to close and the first to open, but in many communities, casinos, bars, and tattoo parlors opened before them.” A world with COVID-19 is fundamentally different from one without it, and the former simply cannot include all the trappings of the latter. Cherished summer rituals like camps and baseball games have already been lost; back-to-school traditions and Thanksgiving now hang in the balance. Change is hard to accept, which predisposes people to …

6. Magical Thinking

Back in April, Trump imagined the pandemic’s quick end: “Maybe this goes away with heat and light,” he said. From the start, he and others wondered if hot, humid weather might curb the spread of COVID-19, as it does other coronavirus diseases. Many experts countered that seasonal effects wouldn’t stop the new virus, which was already spreading in the tropics. But, fueled by shaky science and speculative stories, people widely latched on to seasonality as a possible savior, before the virus proved that it could thrive in the Arizona, Texas, and Florida summer.

This brand of magical thinking, in which some factor naturally defuses the pandemic, has become a convenient excuse for inaction. Recently, some commentators have argued that the pandemic will imminently fizzle out for two reasons. First, 20 to 50 percent of people have defensive T-cells that recognize the new coronavirus, because they were previously exposed to its milder, common-cold-causing cousins. Second, some modeling studies claim that herd immunity—whereby the virus struggles to find new hosts, because enough people are immune—could kick in when just 20 percent of the population has been infected.

Neither claim is implausible, but neither should be grounds for complacency. No one yet knows if the “cross-reactive” T-cells actually protect against COVID-19, and even if they do, they’re unlikely to stop people from getting infected. Herd immunity, meanwhile, is not a perfect barrier. Even if the low thresholds are correct, a fast-growing and uncontrolled outbreak will still shoot past themPursuing this strategy will mean that, in the winter, many parts of the U.S. may suffer what New York City endured in the spring: thousands of deaths and an untold number of lingering disabilities. That alone should be an argument against …

7. The Complacency of Inexperience

When illness is averted and lives are spared, “nothing happens and all you have is the miracle of a normal, healthy day,” says Howard Koh, a public-health professor at Harvard. “People take that for granted.” Public-health departments are chronically underfunded because the suffering they prevent is invisible. Pandemic preparations are deprioritized in the peaceful years between outbreaks. Even now, many people who have been spared the ravages of COVID-19 argue that the disease wasn’t a big deal, or associate their woes with preventive measures. But the problem is still the disease those measures prevented: The economy is still hurtingmental-health problems are growing, and educational futures have been curtailed, not because of some fearmongering overreaction, but because an uncontrolled pandemic is still afoot.

If anything, the U.S. did not react swiftly or strongly enough. Nations that had previously dealt with emerging viral epidemics, including several in East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, were quick to take the new coronavirus seriously. By contrast, America’s lack of similar firsthand experience, combined with its sense of exceptionalism, might have contributed to its initial sloppiness. “One of my colleagues went to Rwanda in February, and as soon as he hit the airport, they asked about symptoms, checked his temperature, and took his phone number,” says Abraar Karan, an internist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. “In the U.S., I flew in July, and walked out of the airport, no questions asked.”

Even when the virus began spreading within the U.S., places that weren’t initially pummeled seemed to forget that viruses spread. “In April, I was seeing COVID patients in the ER every day,” Karan says. “In Texas, I had friends saying, ‘No one believes it here because we have no cases.’ In L.A., fellow physicians said, ‘Are you sure this is worse than the flu? We’re not seeing anything.’” Three months later, Texas and California saw COVID-19 all too closely. The tendency to ignore threats until they directly affect us has consigned the U.S. to …

8. A Reactive Rut

In March, Mike Ryan at the World Health Organization advised, “Be fast, have no regrets … The virus will always get you if you don’t move quickly.” The U.S. failed to heed that warning, and has repeatedly found itself several steps behind the coronavirus. That’s partly because exponential growth is counterintuitive, so “we don’t understand that things look fine until right before they’re very not fine,” says Beth Redbird, a sociologist at Northwestern. It’s also because the coronavirus spreads quickly but is slow to reveal itself: It can take a month for infections to lead to symptoms, for symptoms to warrant tests and hospitalizations, and for enough sick people to produce a noticeable spike. Pandemic data are like the light of distant stars, recording past events instead of present ones. This lag separates actions from their consequences by enough time to break our intuition for cause and effect. Policy makers end up acting only when it’s too late. Predictable surges get falsely cast as unexpected surprises.

This reactive rut also precludes long-term planning. In April, Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota, told me that “people haven’t understood that [the pandemic] isn’t about the next couple of weeks [but] about the next two years.” Leaders should have taken the long view then. “We should have been thinking about what it would take to ensure schools open in the fall, and prevent the long-term harms of lost children’s development,” Redbird says. Instead, we started working our way through a serial monogamy of solutions, and, like spiraling army ants, marched forward with no sense of the future beyond the next few footsteps.

These errors crop up in all disasters. But the COVID-19 pandemic has special qualities that have exacerbated them. The virus moved quickly enough to upend the status quo in a few months, deepening the allure of the hastily abandoned past. It also moved slowly enough to sweep the U.S. in a patchwork fashion, allowing as-yet-untouched communities to drop their guard. The pandemic grew huge in scope, entangling every aspect of society, and maxing out our capacity to deal with complexity. “People struggle to make rational decisions when they cannot see all the cogs,” says Njoki Mwarumba, an emergency-management professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Full of fear and anxiety, people furiously searched for more information, but because the virus is so new, they instead spiraled into more confusion and uncertainty. And tragically, all of this happened during the presidency of Donald Trump.

Trump embodied and amplified America’s intuition death spiral. Instead of rolling out a detailed, coordinated plan to control the pandemic, he ricocheted from one overhyped cure-all to another, while relying on theatrics such as travel bans. He ignored inequities and systemic failures in favor of blaming China, the WHO, governors, Anthony Fauci, and Barack Obama. He widened the false dichotomy between lockdowns and reopening by regularly tweeting in favor of the latter. He and his allies appealed to magical thinking and steered the U.S. straight into the normality trap by frequently lying that the virus would go away, that the pandemic was ending, that new waves weren’t happening, and that rising case numbers were solely due to increased testing. They have started talking about COVID-19 in the past tense as cases surge in the Midwest.

“It’s like mass gaslighting,” says Martha Lincoln, a medical anthropologist at San Francisco State University. “We were put in a situation where better solutions were closed off but a lot of people had that fact sneak up on them. In the absence of a robust federal response, we’re all left washing our hands and hoping for the best, which makes us more susceptible to magical thinking and individual-level fixes.” And if those fixes never come, “I think people are going to harden into a fatalistic sense that we have to accept whatever the risks are to continue with our everyday lives.”

That might, indeed, be Trump’s next solution. The Washington Post reports that Trump’s new adviser—the neuroradiologist Scott Atlas—is pushing a strategy that lets the virus rip through the non-elderly population in a bid to reach herd immunity. This policy was folly for Sweden, which is nowhere near herd immunity, had one of the world’s highest COVID-19 death rates, and has a regretful state epidemiologist. Although the White House has denied that a formal herd-immunity policy exists, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently changed its guidance to say that asymptomatic people “do not necessarily need a test” even after close contact with an infected personThis change makes no sense: People can still spread the virus before showing symptoms. By effectively recommending less testing, as Trump has specifically called for, the nation’s top public-health agency is depriving the U.S. of the data it needs to resist intuitive errors. “When there’s a refusal to take in the big picture, we are stuck,” Mwarumba says.

The pandemic is now in its ninth month. Uncertainties abound as fall and winter loom. In much of the country, colder weather will gradually pack people into indoor spaces, where the coronavirus more readily spreads. Winter also typically heralds the arrival of the flu and other respiratory viruses, and although the Southern Hemisphere enjoyed an unusually mild flu season, that’s “because of the severe precautions they were taking against COVID-19,” says Eleanor Murray, an epidemiologist at Boston University. “It’s not clear to me that our precautions will be successful enough to also prevent the flu.”

Schools are reopening, which will shape the path of the pandemic in still-uncertain ways. Universities are more predictable: Thanks to magical thinking and misplaced moralism, the U.S. already has at least 51,000 confirmed infections in more than 1,000 colleges across every state. These (underestimated) numbers will grow, because only 20 percent of colleges are doing regular testing, while almost half are not testing at all. As more are forced to stop in-person teaching, students will be sent back to their communities with COVID-19 in tow. “I expect this will blow up outbreaks in places that never had outbreaks, or in places that had outbreaks under control,” Murray says. Further spikes will likely occur after Thanksgiving and Christmas, as people who yearn to return to normal (or who think that the country overreacted) travel to see their family. Despite that risk, the CDC recently dropped its recommendation that out-of-state travelers should quarantine themselves for 14 days.

But many of the experts I spoke with thought it unlikely that “we’ll have cities going full New York,” as Bergstrom puts it. Doctors are getting better at treating the disease. States like Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey have managed to avoid new surges over the summer, showing that local leadership can at least partly compensate for federal laxity. A new generation of cheap, rapid, paper-based tests will hit the market and make it easier to work out who is contagious. And despite the spiral of bad intuitions, many Americans are holding the line: Mask use and support for physical distancing are still high, according to Redbird, who has been tracking pandemic-related attitudes since March. “My feeling is that while things are going to get worse, I’m not sure they’ll be catastrophic, because of situational awareness,” Bill Hanage says.

Meanwhile, Trump seems to be teeing up a vaccine announcement in late October, shortly before the November 3 election. Moncef Slaoui, the scientific head of Operation Warp Speed, told NPR that it’s “extremely unlikely” a vaccine will be ready by then, and many scientists are concerned that the FDA will be pressured into approving a product that hasn’t been adequately tested, as Russia and China already have. Many Americans share this concern. A safe and effective vaccine could finally bring the pandemic under control, but its arrival will also test America’s ability to resist the intuitive errors that have trapped it so far. Vaccination has long been portrayed as the ultimate biomedical silver bullet, separating an era when masks and social distancing mattered from a world where normality has returned. This is yet another false dichotomy. “Everyone’s imagining this moment when all of a sudden, it’s all over, and they can go on vacation,” Natalie Dean says. “But the reality is going to be messier.”

This problem is not unique to COVID-19. It’s more compelling to hope that drug-resistant bacteria can be beaten with viruses than to stem the overuse of antibiotics, to hack the climate than to curb greenhouse-gas emissions, or to invest in a doomed oceanic plastic-catcher than to reduce the production of waste. Throughout its entire history, and more than any other nation, the U.S. has espoused “an almost blind faith in the power of technology as panacea,” writes the historian Howard Segal.* Instead of solving social problems, the U.S. uses techno-fixes to bypass them, plastering the wounds instead of removing the source of injury—and that’s if people even accept the solution on offer.

A third of Americans already say they would refuse a vaccine, whether because of existing anti-vaccine attitudes or more reasonable concerns about a rushed development process. Those who get the shot are unlikely to be fully protected; the FDA is prepared to approve a vaccine that’s at least 50 percent effective—a level comparable to current flu shots. An imperfect vaccine will still be useful. The risk is that the government goes all-in on this one theatrical countermeasure, without addressing the systemic problems that made the U.S. so vulnerable, or investing in the testing and tracing strategies that will still be necessary. “We’re still going to need those other things,” Dean says.

Between these reasons and the time needed for manufacturing and distribution, the pandemic is likely to drag on for months after a vaccine is approved. Already, the event is exacting a psychological toll that’s unlike the trauma of a hurricane or fire. “It’s not the type of disaster that Americans specifically are used to dealing with,” says Samantha Montano of Massachusetts Maritime Academy, who studies disasters. “Famines and complex humanitarian crises are closer approximations.” Health experts are burning outLong-haulers are struggling to find treatments or support. But many Americans are turning away from the pandemic. “People have stopped watching news about it as much, or talking to friends about it,” Redbird says. “I think we’re all exhausted.” Optimistically, this might mean that people are becoming less anxious and more resilient. More worryingly, it could also mean they are becoming inured to tragedy.

The most accurate model to date predicts that the U.S. will head into November with 220,000 confirmed deaths. More than 1,000 health-care workers have died. One in every 1,125 Black Americans has died, along with similarly disproportionate numbers of Indigenous people, Pacific Islanders, and Latinos. And yet, a recent poll found that 57 percent of Republican voters and 33 percent of independents think the number of deaths is acceptable. “In order for us to mobilize around a social problem, we all have to agree that it’s a problem,” Lori Peek says. “It’s shocking that we haven’t, because you really would have thought that with a pandemic it would be easy.” This is the final and perhaps most costly intuitive error …

9. The Habituation of Horror

The U.S. might stop treating the pandemic as the emergency that it is. Daily tragedy might become ambient noise. The desire for normality might render the unthinkable normal. Like poverty and racismschool shootings and police brutalitymass incarceration and sexual harassmentwidespread extinctions and changing climate, COVID-19 might become yet another unacceptable thing that America comes to accept.

 

 

 

 

Amazon Is Hiring an Intelligence Analyst to Track ‘Labor Organizing Threats’

https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/qj4aqw/amazon-hiring-intelligence-analyst-to-track-labor-organizing-threats?fbclid=IwAR2HPsGNDFctpmNzBb_6Su9yof5SN_ke-E9cG0vHwgseLJw8UaQmarmGoPk

Amazon is looking to hire two people who can focus on keeping tabs on labor activists within the company.

Amazon is looking to hire two intelligence analysts to track “labor organizing threats” within the company.

The company recently posted two job listings for analysts that can keep an eye on sensitive and confidential topics “including labor organizing threats against the company.” Amazon is looking to hire an “Intelligence Analyst” and a “Sr Intelligence Analyst” for its Global Security Operations’ (GSO) Global Intelligence Program (GIP), the team that’s responsible for physical and corporate security operations such as insider threats and industrial espionage. 

The job ads list several kinds of threats, such as “protests, geopolitical crises, conflicts impacting operations,” but focuses on “organized labor” in particular, mentioning it three times in one of the listings. 

Amazon has historically been hostile to workers attempting to form a union or organize any kind of collective action. Last year, an Amazon spokesperson accused unions of exploiting Prime Day “to raise awareness to their cause” and increase membership dues. Earlier this year, the company fired Christian Smalls, a Black employee who led a protest at a fulfillment center in New York over Amazon’s inadequate safety measures in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. During a meeting with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, company executives discussed plans to smear Smalls calling him “not smart, or articulate.”  

These job listings show Amazon sees labor organizing as one of the biggest threats to its existence.

Do you work at Amazon, did you used to, or do you know anything else about the company? We’d love to hear from you. Using a non-work phone or computer, you can contact Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai securely on Signal at +1 917 257 1382, on Wickr at lorenzofb, OTR chat at lorenzofb@jabber.ccc.de, or email lorenzofb@vice.com.

After this story was published, Amazon deleted the job listings and company spokesperson Maria Boschetti said in an email that “the job post was not an accurate description of the role— it was made in error and has since been corrected.” The spokesperson did not respond to follow-up questions about the alleged mistake. The job listing, according to Amazon’s own job portal, had been up since January 6, 2020.

Dania Rajendra, the Director of the Athena Coalition, an alliance of dozens of grassroots labor groups that organize amazon workers, criticized the listing.

“Workers, especially Black workers, have been telling us all for months that Amazon is targeting them for speaking out. This job description is proof that Amazon intends to continue on this course,” Rajendra told Motherboard in a statement. “The public deserves to know whether Amazon will continue to fill these positions, even if they’re no longer publicly posted.”

On Monday, the Open Markets Institute, a nonprofit that studies monopolies, published a report on Amazon’s employee surveillance efforts, claiming that these practices “create a harsh and dehumanizing working environment that produces a constant state of fear, as well as physical and mental anguish.” 

After a week of the jobs being posted online, 71 people have applied to the Intelligence Analyst position, and 24 people to the Sr Intelligence Analyst job, according to Linkedin. The first job was posted in the Amazon Jobs portal in January, the second job on July 21, according to the company’s site.

UPDATE Sept. 1, 12:04 p.m. ET: Shortly after this story was published, Amazon removed the listings from its job portal.

 

 

 

 

The Misguided Rush to Throw the School Doors Open

https://www.governing.com/now/The-Misguided-Rush-to-Throw-the-School-Doors-Open.html?utm_term=READ%20MORE&utm_campaign=The%20Misguided%20Rush%20to%20Throw%20the%20School%20Doors%20Open&utm_content=email&utm_source=Act-On+Software&utm_medium=email

With the COVID-19 pandemic raging across much of America, a return to full-scale classroom instruction poses too grave a risk to students, teachers, school staff, parents and their communities.

Across the country, many of the public schools that are scheduled to open their doors within the next few weeks are still in limbo as to whether they should open on time and how they should operate — with full-scale in-person classroom instruction, with online learning only, or with some hybrid of the two. But the right call is becoming clearer by the day: It’s too soon to bring students and teachers back into the classroom.

Most communities are not ready to reopen their schools for traditional classes because neither government leaders nor the public have done nearly enough to curb the spread of the coronavirus or make the necessary preparations that would be required to operate schools safely.

Tens of thousands of new cases of COVID-19 are being reported every day and the death toll is averaging more than a thousand daily, with Sun Belt states seeing most of the biggest surges. It’s becoming ever clearer that this grim tally will continue until an effective vaccine is available. Until then, the possibility that students, their parents, teachers and school staff could become infected with the coronavirus and spread it widely to their communities should gravely concern every public official. The danger is hardly speculative: Schools that are among the earliest to reopen are already seeing positive cases.

The arguments that students learn better in a classroom setting, that they are suffering psychologically from social isolation, and that school closures have been particularly hard on working families are all legitimate. But are we really prepared to further risk the health of our children and of our communities by putting them in an environment where most of the practices to curb the virus will be difficult, if not impossible, to consistently follow?

And the danger to school staff members if they are forced to return to work should not be underestimated. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 25 percent of teachers are at risk of serious illness if they become infected with COVID-19, either because of their age — 65 or older — or their underlying health conditions.

The rush to reopen fully for in-person instruction has been driven in part by President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, whose demands have been accompanied with threats of losing federal funds. Those demands appear to run afoul of guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention a few weeks ago: Among other things, the CDC counseled going with small, socially distanced class sizes, emphasizing hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette, and requiring cloth face coverings — common-sense precautions the president said were too strict and many school officials say will be difficult to implement.

The political pressure has been so intense that the CDC issued a new set of “resources and tools” for school reopening, with CDC Director Robert Redfield saying that “the goal line is to get the majority of these students back to face-to-face learning,” a stance that was seen by many as a capitulation after the president criticized the earlier guidelines. Clearly this is not what most Americans expect of our top health officials. The public must feel confident that decisions to reopen schools are based on the best scientific evidence available and the professional advice of educators.

Despite the threats and pressure, many school officials are still doing the right thing by listening to local health experts and deciding for themselves when and how best to reopen. I see this in my own state of Georgia, where, according to a recent Atlanta Journal-Constitution article on how Georgia schools plan to start the school year, most school official are delaying opening and say that when they do open they plan to implement a hybrid approach to instruction. “Teachers will check in virtually — via some video conferencing software allowing them to see the dozens of children they would normally engage with through rows or groups of desks,” the newspaper reported.

The larger school districts in metropolitan Atlanta recently reversed themselves from offering parents an option to send their children to school traditionally or attend virtually, opting to go all-virtual because of the spikes in the virus. Other schools in the state plan to meet on campus a few days a week and do virtual learning on other days. Then there are superintendents who plan to prioritize on-campus learning but restrict it to students with special learning needs, such as those who have autism. Many of these options are complex and carry with them implications difficult to foresee, but they all prioritize the health of students.

The ultimate decider of when schools will fully reopen will undoubtedly be parents, at least those who have the freedom and budgets to stay home and monitor their children’s academic progress and assist with their homework. As a caring society, we must ensure that the option to telework is given to as many parents as possible, so that the decision to send one’s children to school and possibly expose them to the coronavirus is not based on family income and social status.

We are still in an existential fight with the coronavirus, and we do not know precisely how or when this battle will end. We do know the virus is apolitical and knows no local or state boundaries. There are no quick or easy solutions. One can only pray that public officials learned something from reopening our economy too soon. We do not want this to happen again by prematurely reopening schools.

Much of what our children lose in a semester or two of distance learning can be made up in time, but a lost life is forever.

 

 

 

 

Why our “starved” public health system was unprepared for COVID-19

https://mailchi.mp/7d224399ddcb/the-weekly-gist-july-3-2020?e=d1e747d2d8

Exclusive: Health spending in Brazil states as small as USD 20 ...

The American public health system has long been considered one of the best in the world, but decades of underfunding have left states and counties woefully ill-equipped to handle the worst pandemic in a century.

An extensive analysis by Kaiser Health News and the Associated Press found that over the past ten years, per-capita spending by state and local public health departments has dropped by 16 and 18 percent, respectively, leaving our public health system “underfunded and under threat, unable to protect the nation’s health”.

Public health departments are mandated to provide a laundry list of critical functions, from restaurant inspections and water testing to immunizations. But over time, many of these functions have been privatized, and staff and budgets reduced. Both were cut further as state budgets tightened.

The federal government has extended $13B in emergency funding, but many local public health departments have still been forced to furlough workers during the pandemic. Citing comparisons to the funding extended during other crises like Zika and the H1N1 influenza, experts are concerned that baseline budgets will continue to decline.

Moreover, public health workers face unprecedented cultural challenges, and are often disrespected by political and clinical leaders. And as public health workers are putting themselves at risk of COVID exposure just to do their jobs, many face resentment and anger from angry citizens who blame them for the policies they are charged to enforce—with some local public health leaders even resigning due to threats and intimidation.

The current crisis has shown that we need a more expansive, and better coordinated public health infrastructure. Getting there will require not just more investment, but repairs to the foundation of this critical national asset.

 

 

 

Cartoon – Price of Pandemic Freedom

Editorial cartoon: Rob Rogers (May 16, 2020) | | yakimaherald.com

Cartoon – Current State of the Union

Plain Talk: Refusing to wear a mask isn't patriotic, it's just ...

Public Health Officials Face Wave Of Threats, Pressure Amid Coronavirus Response

Public Health Officials Face Wave Of Threats, Pressure Amid Coronavirus Response

Public health officials face wave of threats, pressure amid ...

Emily Brown was director of the Rio Grande County Public Health Department in Colorado until May 22, when the county commissioners fired her after battling with her over coronavirus restrictions. “They finally were tired of me not going along the line they wanted me to go along,” she says.

Emily Brown was stretched thin.

As the director of the Rio Grande County Public Health Department in rural Colorado, she was working 12- and 14-hour days, struggling to respond to the pandemic with only five full-time employees for more than 11,000 residents. Case counts were rising.

She was already at odds with county commissioners, who were pushing to loosen public health restrictions in late May, against her advice. She had previously clashed with them over data releases and had haggled over a variance regarding reopening businesses.

But she reasoned that standing up for public health principles was worth it, even if she risked losing the job that allowed her to live close to her hometown and help her parents with their farm.

Then came the Facebook post: a photo of her and other health officials with comments about their weight and references to “armed citizens” and “bodies swinging from trees.”

The commissioners had asked her to meet with them the next day. She intended to ask them for more support. Instead, she was fired.

“They finally were tired of me not going along the line they wanted me to go along,” she said.

In the battle against COVID-19, public health workers spread across states, cities and small towns make up an invisible army on the front lines. But that army, which has suffered neglect for decades, is under assault when it’s needed most.

Officials who usually work behind the scenes managing everything from immunizations to water quality inspections have found themselves center stage. Elected officials and members of the public who are frustrated with the lockdowns and safety restrictions have at times turned public health workers into politicized punching bags, battering them with countless angry calls and even physical threats.

On Thursday, Ohio’s state health director, who had armed protesters come to her house, resigned. The health officer for Orange County, California, quit Monday after weeks of criticism and personal threats from residents and other public officials over an order requiring face coverings in public.

As the pressure and scrutiny rise, many more health officials have chosen to leave or been pushed out of their jobs. A review by KHN and The Associated Press finds at least 27 state and local health leaders have resigned, retired or been fired since April across 13 states.

In California, senior health officials from seven counties, including the Orange County officer, have resigned or retired since March 15. Dr. Charity Dean, the second in command at the state Department of Public Health, submitted her resignation June 4.

These officials have left their posts due to a mix of backlash and stressful, nonstop working conditions, all while dealing with chronic staffing and funding shortages.

Some health officials have not been up to the job during the biggest health crisis in a century. Others previously had plans to leave or cited their own health issues.

But Lori Tremmel Freeman, CEO of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, said the majority of what she calls an “alarming” exodus resulted from increasing pressure as states reopen. Three of those 27 were members of her board and well known in the public health community — Rio Grande County’s Brown; Detroit’s senior public health adviser, Dr. Kanzoni Asabigi; and the head of North Carolina’s Gaston County Department of Health and Human Services, Chris Dobbins.

Asabigi’s sudden retirement, considering his stature in the public health community, shocked Freeman. She also was upset to hear about the departure of Dobbins, who was chosen as health director of the year for North Carolina in 2017. Asabigi and Dobbins did not reply to requests for comment.

“They just don’t leave like that,” Freeman said.

Public health officials are “really getting tired of the ongoing pressures and the blame game,” Freeman said. She warned that more departures could be expected in the coming days and weeks as political pressure trickles down from the federal to the state to the local level.

From the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, federal public health officials have complained of being sidelined or politicized. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been marginalized; a government whistleblower said he faced retaliation because he opposed a White House directive to allow widespread access to the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 treatment.

In Hawaii, U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard called on the governor to fire his top public health officials, saying she believed they were too slow on testing, contact tracing and travel restrictions. In Wisconsin, several Republican lawmakers have repeatedly demanded that the state’s health services secretary resign, and the state’s conservative Supreme Court ruled 4-3 that she had exceeded her authority by extending a stay-at-home order.

With the increased public scrutiny, security details — like those seen on a federal level for Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease expert — have been assigned to state health leaders, including Georgia’s Dr. Kathleen Toomey after she was threatened. Ohio’s Dr. Amy Acton, who also had a security detail assigned after armed protesters showed up at her home, resigned Thursday.

In Orange County, in late May, nearly a hundred people attended a county supervisors meeting, waiting hours to speak against an order requiring face coverings. One person suggested that the order might make it necessary to invoke Second Amendment rights to bear arms, while another read aloud the home address of the order’s author — the county’s chief health officer, Dr. Nichole Quick — as well as the name of her boyfriend.

Quick, attending by phone, left the meeting. In a statement, the sheriff’s office later said Quick had expressed concern for her safety following “several threatening statements both in public comment and online.” She was given personal protection by the sheriff.

But Monday, after yet another public meeting that included criticism from members of the board of supervisors, Quick resigned. She could not be reached for comment. Earlier, the county’s deputy director of public health services, David Souleles, retired abruptly.

An official in another California county also has been given a security detail, said Kat DeBurgh, the executive director of the Health Officers Association of California, declining to name the county or official because the threats have not been made public.

DeBurgh is worried about the impact these events will have on recruiting people into public health leadership.

“It’s disheartening to see people who disagree with the order go from attacking the order to attacking the officer to questioning their motivation, expertise and patriotism,” said DeBurgh. “That’s not something that should ever happen.”

Many local health leaders, accustomed to relative anonymity as they work to protect the public’s health, have been shocked by the growing threats, said Theresa Anselmo, the executive director of the Colorado Association of Local Public Health Officials.

After polling local health directors across the state at a meeting last month, Anselmo found about 80% said they or their personal property had been threatened since the pandemic began. About 80% also said they’d encountered threats to pull funding from their department or other forms of political pressure.

To Anselmo, the ugly politics and threats are a result of the politicization of the pandemic from the start. So far in Colorado, six top local health officials have retired, resigned or been fired. A handful of state and local health department staff members have left as well, she said.

“It’s just appalling that in this country that spends as much as we do on health care that we’re facing these really difficult ethical dilemmas: Do I stay in my job and risk threats, or do I leave because it’s not worth it?” Anselmo asked.

Some of the online abuse has been going on for years, said Bill Snook, a spokesperson for the health department in Kansas City, Missouri. He has seen instances in which people took a health inspector’s name and made a meme out of it, or said a health worker should be strung up or killed. He said opponents of vaccinations, known as anti-vaxxers, have called staffers “baby killers.”

The pandemic, though, has brought such behavior to another level.

In Ohio, the Delaware General Health District has had two lockdowns since the pandemic began — one after an angry individual came to the health department. Fortunately, the doors were locked, said Dustin Kent, program manager for the department’s residential services unit.

Angry calls over contact tracing continue to pour in, Kent said.

In Colorado, the Tri-County Health Department, which serves Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties near Denver, has also been getting hundreds of calls and emails from frustrated citizens, deputy director Jennifer Ludwig said.

Some have been angry their businesses could not open and blamed the health department for depriving them of their livelihood. Others were furious with neighbors who were not wearing masks outside. It’s a constant wave of “confusion and angst and anxiety and anger,” she said.

Then in April and May, rocks were thrown at one of their office’s windows — three separate times. The office was tagged with obscene graffiti. The department also received an email calling members of the department “tyrants,” adding “you’re about to start a hot-shooting … civil war.”  Health department workers decamped to another office.

Although the police determined there was no imminent threat, Ludwig stressed how proud she was of her staff, who weathered the pressure while working round-the-clock.

“It does wear on you, but at the same time we know what we need to do to keep moving to keep our community safe,” she said. “Despite the complaints, the grievances, the threats, the vandalism — the staff have really excelled and stood up.”

The threats didn’t end there, however: Someone asked on the health department’s Facebook page how many people would like to know the home addresses of the Tri-County Health Department leadership. “You want to make this a war??? No problem,” the poster wrote.

Back in Colorado’s Rio Grande County, some members of the community have rallied in support of Brown with public comments and a letter to the editor of a local paper. Meanwhile, COVID-19 case counts have jumped from 14 to 49 as of Wednesday.

Brown is grappling with what she should do next: dive back into another strenuous public health job in a pandemic, or take a moment to recoup?

When she told her 6-year-old son she no longer had a job, he responded: “Good — now you can spend more time with us.”