What has really stunted proper planning for a pandemic is the whole politicization of doing anything. Death rates are high enough for most people to have abandoned their belief in the covid being a hoax, but there still remains difficulties on what to do with it. People seem to have fallen into two extreme camps with little room for public negotiation: be overly cautious or throw all caution to the wind. Masks and lockdowns have both had proven efficacy against the spread, but lockdowns are have also been proven to be lethal to economies and livelihoods. It shouldn’t be the case of arguing no lockdowns versus full lockdowns – which seems to be the crux of most arguments – the arguments should be focused around what aspects of lockdowns are most effective and for what periods of time. There should also be more discussion on what can be done by a society to avoid them.
The first mistake of the government, and here I’m specifically referring to the American CDC, was when they posted a certain set of advice, which wasn’t mistaken, but was misleading, and ended up spiraling out of control and stirring up all sorts of strange brews of misunderstanding (they have since updated their guide given newly available research). What was the advice? They said that masks don’t do much to protect you, and that only the N95 was of any real use. While this is true, it didn’t discuss the societal advantage of masks: They help prevent others from getting what you have, and thus reduce the likelihood of community spread. And in this use, non-medical N95s are actually detrimental – they protect the wearer, but don’t filter anything that the wearer breaths out. So if the wearer is infected, they can still infect everyone else around them. In must be understood that masks do different things for different purposes, and that the two main masks discussed, surgical/cloth masks and N95s, work at cross purposes.
Covid at a parade. Looks like New York? Maybe London.
Another error of the general public is the obsession only over death rates and considering nothing else. They say, “Well, the flu kills at almost the same rate.” Of course, in general there’s no way to know how many people have or have had covid or the flu, so we have no idea the reality of the rates. But we do know the absolute numbers and the rates in society at large. Covid hospitalizes people at a waaay higher rate, and secondly, the deaths and hospitalizations we see from covid are with lockdowns and other precautions. Without those precautions in place, it’s hard to imagine the full extent that it could have caused.
People look to Sweden as a case of managing the illness without lockdowns – people who usually hate the use of the Swedish medical system juxtaposed against the American system – and for one, they had a lot of deaths, and for two, they have an advanced medical system that is more capable of dealing with public crises. They also have a public who are willing to sacrifice and scale back a bit for the good of the community. Even so, it hasn't been looking good for them for a while and their economy was impacted already in such a way almost as if they had had lockdowns, and now they're instituting many of the same measures as other European countries, given their staggering failure as compared to their neighbors.
Sweden feeling ashamed for not attempting to stop covid deaths
Finally, there’s a huge preoccupation with death, when that’s not even the worst thing about covid. Yes, it can kill you, but it also knocks people out of the picture for large periods of time, in a great deal of pain, and for the majority of people who are hospitalized (and many even with mild symptoms), seems to cause long term damage.
Deaths are also not necessarily the number we should be looking at. Hospital beds might be a much better metric to be cautious of. Hospital beds determine not only how well we can treat people with advanced cases and save their lives, but also how well we can handle all the other illnesses and emergencies that are still happening. One of the early errors of communication was around this too. As hospitals were preparing covid wards early, trying to beat the game, postponing other surgeries and such, people were running around taking pictures of empty hospitals, spreading them on TikTok and YouTube, and building up conspiracy stories ala QAnon. But the reality here is that the brunt of the pandemic hadn’t hit yet and the hospitals were simply preparing. There are still empty hospital spaces – places not for covid patients, and that are empty because doctors have been reassigned or the hospitals are running on minimum shifts to minimize the risk of covid spread.
Here's a video of me making fun of early conspiracy theories. I decided to stop making those videos because too many people were taking me seriously. I suppose Colbert had that problem too in his early days. The difference is, he stuck with it and is madly successful and I threw in the towel after 3 episodes and am eagerly waiting my 600 dollar stimulus check...
Lockdowns in Georgia
Here in the country of Georgia, we’ve had to go through two lockdowns thus far. The first was probably the hardest and most immediate. The country shut down the borders and snapped all sorts of precautions in place, some sensible, others maybe not so much – but as it was an all new situation, this can be excused. But they were effective and did what they were meant to do: They bought some time for Georgia to delay becoming smacked upside the country’s immune system with a disease that packs hospitals like nobody’s business. And with an already crippled medical system and an aging population that is not in peak shape, this was clearly a dangerous disease and time was of the essence.
People were mostly understanding about the initial lockdown. They were skeptical at first, and there was a row with the Church during Easter, but all in all it was handled quite well. Infection rates were some of the lowest in the world. People accepted (for a while) social distancing and mask wearing, and relinquished going to parties.
The beginning was handled so well that when lockdowns were lifted and there was still no real pandemic in sight, Georgia made like George W. Bush on an aircraft carrier: They declared a pre-emptive victory with their pre-emptive strike. Rather than the lockdown, it was this attitude of the government that I believe was the most damaging. The government kept saying they’d reopen the borders (and the economy) next month, then next month, then next month. The same optimism also was felt among the people locally, and we had a summer of domestic tourism and partying.
Georgian Prime Minister declaring victory over coronavirus. Medical advisors left and right.
This was in my opinion somewhat okay. It gave a lifeline to the economy, kept people in good spirits, and it was a minimum risk as long as such parties were outside. But then there were also fairly open borders to certain European countries that were not managing their risks well, and no doubt vacationers from those places, together with truck drivers from Turkey and Russia, importing cases. Combined with the lax attitude of the populace, it was bound to spread into the nightmare scenario of November.
The problem with the government attitude was singular: People trusted in the government optimism. They took out loans, they expanded their businesses, they partied, they spent a lot of money in preparation for what they expected to be a surge in tourists (and income). But covid, as most experts expected, never went away, and was only to get worse. The borders never opened, and people who weren’t in debt before, were now strangling in arrears. The banks were most generous before with delaying mortgages and loan repayments during the first lockdown and are now attempting similar measures but on a smaller scale. The government, to its credit, has set up yet another wave of relief measures targeted at a lot of these problem areas, specifically the tourism and hospitality sectors.
Stories that include people dying horrific deaths in Georgia. Sometimes surviving. And also stories that happen in other countries! Get your copy today.
The government stalled on a new wave of lockdowns. They swore up and down before the elections they wouldn’t have new lockdowns. But after the elections, and after the hospital beds were filling up, they came full force into a situation they couldn’t control. People had pandemic-fatigue now. And with previously low risks, they consciously couldn’t balance taking precautions with the new surge in numbers. People that I observed were sticking their noses out of their masks, running up and down metro cars without masks, lines had deteriorated to their pre-covid melees, and so on.
Do lockdowns work
Here’s the thing, lockdowns do work. It’s ultimately about restricting contact between people. Obviously they work. "But what about the XXX amount of people that died during the lockdown?" What about the XXX amount more who would have died without it? It's unfortunately a variable we don't know, as such an experiment is far too costly to conduct by regular means. Lockdown measures also mean temporarily damaging the economy (arguably long term, definitely short term), especially if the banks don’t play along. The lockdown shouldn’t be seen lightly (and I don’t think it really is), but as a last ditch effort to preserve the medical system and make sure there are available beds. Until then, all other options should be exhausted by society and people.
But just take the stats in Georgia. The lockdown – as flawed as it might be, has clearly made a massive impact. With increased and somewhat consistent testing, you can see the real results yourself:
Lockdowns began in November, source: Worldometers
People need to be aware there’s a pandemic and understand those implications. That means wearing masks and being responsible about distancing on your own. But people – Americans and those everywhere – absolutely can’t do that. We’ve got stuff to protest, beers to drink, conspiracies to believe, and spitting in people’s faces to do.
Man proving masks work with fire, because why not.
I would prefer no lockdowns and no government interference. But that’s in a perfect world where people are responsible for each others health. Where people are not, then the government has to intervene, there’s no way around it. So we have to ask, in what ways should they intervene, and what ways are unnecessary? How do we save the most lives, speaking both of health and economically?
Some thoughts on what's effective/ineffective (all my opinion, of course):
1. Curfews are somewhat detrimental. During a pandemic, my logic says that you want to spread people out, and that means both in the sense of not only place, but of time. Push grocery stores to be 24 hours or to expand their availability, so that less people are packed in one place at one time. When curfews are implemented, people often wait until the last moment to do something. And when everyone does that…
2. As much of a barfly as I am/used to be, and also as a live musician, I hate to admit that closing bars and restaurants seems to be a good idea, especially in colder months. In a bar, people are standing, packed, mixing together in different groups. Restaurants less so, so they can be delayed a bit. During warmer months, this is a bit more arguable.
3. Closing schools makes sense. But do they have to be on distance learning the entire semester, or can they be snapped shut and shifted to distance learning when a case is discovered and opened again after two weeks?
4. They had a three person to a car scheme for a while. Which meant households were impossible to move and go to the park or wherever. Seems silly. They ended it, probably because the people in power have households larger than two people (I'm including their driver, because they're rich).
5. Only half the city has ready access to decent parks, which in a city that’s mostly urban apartments, is devastating to mental health. Especially when the metro shuts down.
6. One economic domino chain is like this: A bar or restaurant is forced to close/hit with far less clientele. They can't pay rent. The landlord is sympathetic, but owes a mortgage on the property. If banks here could carryover those debts of landlords and bars/restaurants, this would be a huge boon to the post-covid recovery. The same here goes for house rentals.
7. I think the thing that worked the most in this lockdown was shutting down the metro. This is where the most people were at any single period of time, with a large exchange of people on top of that. It’s beyond any doubt that shutting it down was what triggered the greatest benefit. Which sucks, because I’m huge into public transit, but it is what it is. But how to transport workers, customers, and so on without a transit system?
Girl waiting long time for metro to start running again
In all parts of the plan, flexibility, timeliness, and focus should be three main parts. What is necessary and what works for one neighborhood or city might not be the same for another. Adaptation on different scenarios is required.
Weird effects of the lockdowns
When I worked with the US Department of Labor, I noticed something peculiar. Regulations had a way of creating jobs. First there were obviously the jobs of the regulators themselves, but then there were the private counterparts. The lawyers, HR staff, and consultants who were all needed to make sure the companies were in compliance. Of course, regulations do bring up new hardships for companies, but in general, if an economy is allowed to be flexible enough, people and businesses adapt. Or they fail.
The lockdowns aren’t kill-alls. They change the economic reality, and enterprising people change with it. Malls have been shut down a few times now, and people have in general switched to more online shopping. Big businesses like H&M inexplicably don’t have functional online shopping in Georgia and often rely on Facebook (fine for small businesses, but for multinational corporations? C'mon!). Internet webpages are pretty rarely utilized and when they are, often horrifically so. But for some reason, Georgians love utilizing Facebook for shopping. You find the post, message the seller, and then transfer the money via banking app. Small stores have sprung up left and right, from just a girl doing crafts, to a guy making wine bottles, and so on. I haven’t seen a study on this, but I wouldn’t be surprised that if in Georgia at least, small businesses of the type that have been willing to work by delivery, might have grown and been more successful in 2020 than big businesses and than previously.
There's nothing else to do, so why not?:
Another sector of the economy that has boomed are the delivery and taxi sectors. The post office is somewhat underdeveloped and underused, so courier and delivery services have really skyrocketed, propelling Tbilisi into an almost fully modern society, where you can order from groceries, restaurants, plumbers, electricians and so on via apps (and Facebook, obviously).
Covid is serious guys. Don't buy into the 5G freemasonry lizard people-eating pedophile Covid-is-a-hoax arguments out there. I've known more than enough people to have died before their time. So please, stay safe, and respect your neighbors. Don't be the Samaritans Jesus expected, be the Samaritans He was surprised by.