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Just like the September 11 terrorist attacks, the Covid-19 crisis is something that most of us will never forget during our lifetime. More than 70,000 American lives have been lost so far and over 35 million of us have lost our livelihood. This is a tragedy of epic proportions.
This crisis has escalated the war between the two major political parties. There are raging debates regarding the death count. Are they accurate? Is the death count overstated or understated? Is the cause of death determined in a manner that is consistent with how it was done by the medical community before Coronavirus?
Did our government respond early or was the response delayed? During a crisis like this, should we only follow the directions and advice of the scientists and the experts and/or should we also listen to the elected politicians who represent the will of the people? Is this a failure on part of the Federal government or the Cities and the States?
Although the crisis is still continuing and may not end anytime soon, I wanted to take some time and reflect on what I have learnt so far from this tragedy.
Lessons learnt from the September 11 terrorist attacks were ignored.
The 09/11 terrorist attack on the United States was a wake-up call. It was an attack on American soil by group that from far away. It was an attack by a group that has attacked us before. It was an attack that took months and years of planning. It revealed gaping holes in our intelligence and security apparatus. Government departments were not sharing information and the whole system (Federal and State levels) looked clumsy and unprepared.
Since 09/11, several terrorist attacks have taken place in New York and other parts of the country. We have also read reports that terrorists might strike New York and other major cities with a “small dirty bomb” or a “biological weapon”.
The Coronavirus (Covid-19) is not a terrorist attack, a dirty bomb or a biological weapon. But nonetheless it is an attack on America. In future it is possible that a foreign entity could launch such an attack deliberately. The first known case in the United States was identified in late January 2020. But we knew from news reports that the virus was brewing in China since mid-November.
When the shutdown began in mid-March and people started dying, we the people of the United States were told that cities like New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and Los Angeles, did not have sufficient numbers of basic items like gloves, masks or Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that the healthcare workers and other emergency workers needed to handle this crisis. Nobody was then surprised when we were also informed that enough ventilators and hospital beds were not available either.
So, if a dirty bomb or a biological attack did take place in New York, what was the city’s plan to react and respond to the attack? Whatever the plan was, it clearly did not involve ensuring that the first responders did have enough gloves, masks or PPE.
Our Constitution is just for reference.
America is the land of liberty, freedom and independence. The constitution of this country is revered not only in this country but elsewhere (The concept of “We the people” is also enshrined in the Constitution of India, a constitution that lays down the law for 1.3 billion people in India).
I live ten blocks from the Independence Hall (Philadelphia). It is in this building that the Declaration of Independence (July 4th, 1776) and the Constitution of the United States (September 17th, 1787) were both debated and also adopted. Prior to July 4th, 1776, the Independence Hall was the capital of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Those were the glory days for the City of Philadelphia.
Today the situation is very different. The gates of the City Hall building have remained closed for the past two months. A city of 1.6 million people has completely shut down. Nowhere to go. Nothing to do. If you lost your job, you cannot even attend a job interview. The state-owned wine and spirits shops have finally opened last week for curbside pickup (if you are lucky enough to get them to answer the phone and place the order).
The policies surrounding the shutdown, in the State of Pennsylvania are some of the most brutal considering the impact of Covid-19 in Pennsylvania has been mild. As of today, there are 18,211 positive cases in Philadelphia and 894 have died “with Covid”. So that is 894 deaths in a city of 1.6 million. What is the chance of a resident from Philadelphia dying from the virus?
Individuals who support the shutdown say that the shutdown is keeping the death count low. But data from New York shows that 66% of the people who are hospitalized in New York were individuals who were sheltering (The case for the shutdown is a mixed bag. The case for social distancing is slightly better).
Governor Cuomo’s (New York) and Governor Wolf’s (Pennsylvania) nursing home policies during the crisis have ended in tragedy. Allowing seniors who tested positive for Covid-19 back into the nursing and senior living homes was a disastrous decision. Pennsylvania Health Secretary, Rachel Levine admitted recently that she moved her elderly mother from a senior facility to a hotel. Do what I say, don’t do what I do!!
The City of Philadelphia is not the only exception. Many cities, States and the Federal government itself have enforced policies and put procedures in place that violate civil liberties.
In order to suspend our basic liberties and freedom of movement indefinitely, how contagious should a disease be? What should be the death rate? And finally, who decides that?
Whose side are the prominent civil liberties unions and other organizations on? How many of them have tried to block the governments from enacting policies that potentially are violations of the law and the constitution?
Such organization have been very active. But not in the way many of us think. Many lawsuits have been filed by these organizations against the governments to release people from prisons (By some accounts more than 20,000 criminals have been released from prison due to such actions). But others like me, people who live in crowded condos and apartment buildings in the cities, continue to sit at home and look at the outside world through our tiny windows.
Condominiums and apartment buildings in the cities are the new prisons.
Difference between Scientists, Experts and Bureaucrats.
A scientist is someone who has advanced knowledge of the natural or physical sciences. An expert is someone who has a broad and deep competence in a particular field. We also know that in many fields, those who are considered experts and scientists, may not necessarily agree on the diagnosis or course of action. In science, there is a concept called “scientific opinion” which can be conflicting, uncertain, partial or only applicable temporally.
Dr. Anthony Fauci has served as the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) since 1984. There is no question that he is a scientist and an expert. He has served in Republican and Democrat administrations. During the current crisis, Americans in large numbers, including me, have tuned in to watch the daily briefings just to listen to him and Dr. Brix explain what is going on.
They have the skills, experience and the expertise to understand the subject matter. But most importantly, they can also explain what they know in a very simple and clear language that a layperson like me can understand. Their calm demeanor and clarity of thought and delivery is in stark contrast to President Trump who leads these daily briefings. The President can be melodramatic, his answers can be longwinded, he can be combative with the media and in cases he has contradicted what the experts have said.
Leaving aside the drama that surrounds the President, I always wonder, who is better at his job? The people’s representative or the expert and the scientist?
On January 24th, Dr. Fauci said the following regarding China, “This time around from my perception they look like they’re being quite transparent“. In the same interview Dr. Fauci also cast doubts on whether the shutdown will work. He said:
“That’s something that I don’t think we could possibly do in the United States, I can’t imagine shutting down New York or Los Angeles, but the judgement on the part of the Chinese health authorities is that given the fact that it’s spreading throughout the provinces… it’s their judgement that this is something that in fact is going to help in containing it. Whether or not it does or does not is really open to question because historically when you shut things down it doesn’t have a major effect.”
On February 17, Dr. Fauci said the danger of the Coronavirus is “Just Minuscule” and also said the following about wearing a mask:
“If you look at the masks that you buy in a drug store, the leakage around that doesn’t really do much to protect you,” he said. “People start saying, ‘Should I start wearing a mask?’ Now, in the United States, there is absolutely no reason whatsoever to wear a mask.”
Dr. Fauci is not your ordinary scientist or expert!! He is the Director of NIAID for 36 years. The budget for NIAID for the FY 2020 is $4.7 billion. As a Director, in addition to him being a scientist and an expert, he is also a manager of people. He is someone who has a major say in how, when and where the money allocated is spent. In addition, he is also someone who supervises a large portfolio of projects relating to infectious diseases.
Covid-19 is not the first virus to catch America by surprise in the past 20 years. SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome), Zika Virus, Swine Flu and the Ebola Virus are some of the others. Thousands of Americans have died due to these viruses in addition to the thousands who die every year because of the seasonal flu.
When the next virus lands on our shore or crosses the border from Mexico (like Swine Flu), how confident are you that the NIAID and their team of scientists and experts will be able to provide a rapid response and rescue America? Or will they continue to say that they need anywhere from 18 months to two years to come up with a vaccine if at all.
I am sure that within 18 months the Chinese and probably a few other nations will develop a vaccine for Covid-19. All we have to do is to buy it from them just like we buy most of our antibiotics from the rest of the world. We can save some of the $4.7 billion that we are spending on NIAID now.
When I hear Dr. Fauci speak, I am not just hearing a brilliant and accomplished scientist, I am also hearing someone who is defending the bureaucracy that he had a hand in building and overseeing for the past 36 years. I am hearing someone who is flip flopping just like the politicians.
We need the city to reopen but not the city government
About 35 million Americans have lost their jobs in the past 5 weeks. Many others have seen our hours reduced. This has impacted people from all walks of life. But one group has managed to survive. The government employees!
In Philadelphia and many other major cities, most government departments are closed, businesses are closed, schools are closed, tourist attractions are closed and public transportation is operating at the bare minimum levels. The revenue coming in has significantly reduced.
Yet the government employees (city, state and federal) and a few other groups including the teachers have not seen any major job losses. The Philadelphia Health Commissioner, when asked a few weeks ago about reopening said that “we are absolutely not talking about dates right now“. Good for him.
The question is do we miss the city government? Should we care about when the city government will reopen?
Many people in Philadelphia have realized during Covid that we do not really need the city government. The city can function perfectly without them. All we have to do is to replace the government with a few mainframe computers (except for the police and the firefighters who have done a tremendous job during the shutdown). Remember the saying, “A vacation should just be long enough that your boss misses you and short enough for him/her to realize that they can do without you’!!
When a similar crisis happens next time, the super computers (designed by experts and scientists!!) that run the city, will make a strictly scientific decision on whether to shut down, when to shut down or reopen. The decision will be taken away from politicians and the bureaucrats who are hiding behind their version of science, trying to defend the inefficient bureaucracies that they have built and oversee, and making decisions that are all about politics and nothing to do with science. And yes, these mainframe computers will have artificial intelligence!!
What are your thoughts about the shutdown? Love to hear your feedback!