Is This Who We Are?

Often, a crisis such as a pandemic brings people together as they fight a common enemy, however the current pandemic has done the exact opposite in the U.S.  The reason it has driven us even further apart, of course, is that the ‘man’ in the Oval Office, the ‘leader’ of this nation, told people not to worry, that the coronavirus would be gone soon with minimal damage.  He then went even further, calling it a ‘democratic hoax’ and telling people not to bother with such things as wearing masks or social distancing.  Half the people in this country listened, instead, to the scientists and medical experts, but the other half listened to Trump and are now putting everyone’s lives at risk.

What follows is from a column in The Washington Post, written by Amber Elliott, a county health director in St. Francois County, Missouri, about the abuse she has taken for simply trying to save lives. It is lengthy, and I initially intended to use only a few excerpts, but as I re-read it, every word seemed important.  Please take a few minutes to read her words and consider her query:  Is this who we are?


‘This is how we treat each other? This is who we are?’

Amber-ElliottI don’t really know if I should be talking about all of this. It makes me worried for my safety. I’ve had strange cars driving back and forth past my house. I get threatening messages from people saying they’re watching me. They followed my family to the park and took pictures of my kids. How insane is that? I know it’s my job to be out front talking about the importance of public health — educating people, keeping them safe. Now it kind of scares me.

But people need to know what’s going on. It’s happening all over the country, and it’s not acceptable. I know we can do better. We have to do better.

I don’t base our whole response to this pandemic on my own opinion. That’s what makes the backlash so confusing. This job is nonpartisan. I’m not political in any way. I go off of facts and evidence-based science, and right now, all the data in Missouri is scary bad. We only have about 70,000 people in St. Francois County, but we’ve had more than 900 new cases in the last few weeks. Our positivity rate is 25 percent and rising. The hospital is already at capacity. They’ve basically run out of staff. We can’t keep up. It’s an uncontrolled spread. I have these moments when it feels like I’m a nurse at the bedside, and my patient is dying, and I’m trying every possible intervention to save them. More social distancing. More masks. More contact tracing. Warnings and more warnings. What else can we try? But in the end, it doesn’t matter how much you do. Nothing will work, because it almost seems like the patient is resisting your help.

I get the same comments all the time over Facebook or email. “Oh, she’s blowing it out of proportion.” “She’s a communist.” “She’s a bitch.” “She’s pushing her agenda.”

Okay, fine. I do have an agenda. I want disease transmission to go down. I want to keep this community safe. I want fewer people to die. Why is that controversial?

We weren’t set up well to deal with this virus in Missouri. We have the worst funding in the country for public health, and a lot of the things we’ve needed to fight the spread of covid are things we should have had in place 10 years ago. We don’t have an emergency manager. We don’t have anyone to handle HR, public information, or IT, so that’s all been me. We didn’t get extra funding for covid until last month. I’m young and I’m motivated, and I took this job in January because public health is my absolute love. It doesn’t pay well, but would I rather be treating people who already have a disease or helping to prevent it? That’s what we do. We help take care of people. At one point this summer, I worked 90 days straight trying to hold this virus at bay, and my whole staff was basically like that.

We hired 10 contact tracers to track the spread, starting in August, but the real problem we keep running into is community cooperation. We call everyone that’s had a positive test and say: “Hey, this is your local health department. We’re trying to interrupt disease transmission, and we’d love your help.” It’s nothing new. We do the same thing for measles, mumps, and tick-borne diseases, and I’d say 99 percent of the time before covid, people were receptive. They wanted to stop an outbreak, but now it’s all politicized. Every time you get on the phone, you’re hoping you don’t get cussed at. Probably half of the people we call are skeptical or combative. They refuse to talk. They deny their own positive test results. They hang up. They say they’re going to hire a lawyer. They give you fake people they’ve spent time with and fake numbers. They lie and tell you they’re quarantining alone at home, but then in the background you can hear the beeping of a scanner at Walmart.

I’ve stayed up a lot of nights trying to understand where this whole disconnect comes from. I love living in this county. I know in my heart these are good people, but it’s like we’re living on different planets. I have people in my own family who believe covid is a conspiracy and our doctors are getting paid off. I’ve done press conferences and dozens of Facebook Live videos to talk about the real science. Even with all the other failures happening, that’s the one thing we should be celebrating: better treatments, nurses and doctors on the front lines, promising news about vaccines. But the more I talk about the facts, the more it seems to put a target on my back.

“We’re tracking your movements.” “Don’t do something you’ll regret.” “We’ll protest at your house.”

The police here have been really great. The elementary school says they’re watching over my kids and they’re on high alert. I have a security system now at my house. I locked down my email and took all my family photos off of Facebook, but you start wondering: Is this worth it? Could anything possibly be worth it?

And then it got worse this fall around the whole masking issue. Our hospital was filling up, and they asked if we could do more in terms of prevention and masking. We put out a press release. We went to businesses and did trainings. We kept encouraging people to mask up, but it wasn’t working. Only about 40 percent were wearing masks, so the health board decided to push for a mask mandate. Of course I was for the idea. Of course it is the scientific, smart thing to do. But at the same time, I kept thinking: Is this going to blow up my life?

We held a public meeting in the auditorium. I knew it was going to be a circus. I gave my kids an extra hug that night and said the things you never want to have to think about. I asked the city: “Are you requiring masks in this building? Because this is a public health meeting, and that’s important.” They said yes. But, of course, the first person that walks in the door says: “I go to church here in this same building, and they don’t make me wear a mask.” So that ended up being an ordeal, and they decided to allow him in. I asked him: “Can you please, please, please social distance?” He told me no. It wasn’t: “I can’t.” It was: “Hell, no. I won’t.” It went downhill from there.

We had more than 100 people show up, and most of them spoke in opposition. We do get a lot of thank-you’s and support for our work, but those aren’t the loudest voices, so sometimes they get drowned out. Our medical providers were at the meeting in their white coats, and three of them stood up to speak on behalf of masks. These are doctors and nurses who risk their lives to treat this virus. They are shouldering the burden of this, but the crowd wouldn’t even let them talk. They booed. They yelled. Some of them had come in with guns. They were so disrespectful. I was trying to take notes for our board, and my hands started shaking. Why aren’t you listening? Why do you refuse to hear from the people who actually know about this disease and how it spreads?

The board decided to go ahead with the mandate anyway, but part of the community revolted. We did a survey a few weeks later, and mask-wearing had actually gone down by six percent. We required it, and people became more likely to do the opposite. How do you even make sense of that? We like to believe we take good care of each other here. This is rural Missouri. We pride ourselves on being a down-home community that sticks together, and now this is how we treat each other? This is who we are?

I don’t go out in public very much anymore. It’s work and then back home. I don’t want to be recognized. I don’t want my kids to see any of that hate. The one place where I had to draw the line was that my son plays baseball, and honestly, his games are the most normal I’ve felt all year. But then, a little while ago, somebody took a photo at a game of me with my daughter. We were outside and social-distanced, so we weren’t wearing masks. The photo got posted all over social media, and it was the usual comments. “Bitch.” “Communist.” “Hypocrite.” My daughter has had some anxiety. My son said to me: “Mom, why does everybody hate you?”

I went in to work the next day, and one of my nurses came to see me. She’d just had one of those nasty interactions on the phone, and she said: “I’m struggling right now. I need one of your little pep talks.” I told her: “I’m sorry, but I just don’t have it. I’m tired of this. I’m so exhausted.”

I’ve been living with that steady hum of tension and fear for almost a year, and I just can’t do it anymore. I keep saying my family is my number-one priority, so at some point I have to keep my kids safe. I decided to put in my notice earlier this month. My last day is this Friday.

I’ve already accepted another nursing job. I’m not abandoning the community. I’m going to keep fighting this pandemic, but I’d rather not say anything much more specific. I don’t want that target on my back. I’m ready to be anonymous.

A Voice of Reason …

I receive a daily newsletter from David Leonhardt, an opinion columnist for the New York Times.  Given that on the average day I receive some 200+ emails, not counting those that are automatically diverted to my spam folder, I often delete newsletters without reading them.  Two of my favourites, though, are Nicholas Kristof and David Leonhardt, so I usually try to at least skim theirs.  Today’s stood out for the title alone, and I read it.  I want to share this today, for I think it is a worthy read, and I fully agree with Mr. Leonhardt.

In recent days, protests have been widespread in a number of states.  These protests are being encouraged by a variety of conservative coalitions, and egged on by none other than Donald Trump himself.  People aren’t thinking, aren’t using that grey matter inside their heads.  This is a complex situation, uncharted territory, and I think we need to err on the side of caution.  So, too, does Mr. Leonhardt …

 

NYTimes.com/David-Leonhardt

david-leonhardt
By David Leonhardt

Opinion Columnist

Seven Reasons We Can’t Yet Reopen America

1. Every day for the past two weeks, another 25,000 or so Americans have been diagnosed with the coronavirus. It’s great news that number is no longer growing, but it’s barely started to fall.

2. Countries that have succeeded in containing the virus made much more progress in reducing the number of new cases before reopening. “China did not allow Wuhan, Nanjing or other cities to reopen until intensive surveillance found zero new cases for 14 straight days, the virus’s incubation period,” as The Times’s Donald McNeil writes.

3. The vast majority of the American population — perhaps about 90 percent — has not yet been exposed to the virus. So there is tremendous potential for outbreaks worse than any we have experienced so far.

4. The testing program in the United States remains terribly flawed. About a month ago, the Trump administration promised 27 million tests would be available by the end of March. Late April is now approaching, and yet only about 4 million tests have been conducted. The current pace of testing needs to triple before the country can safely reopen, Harvard researchers estimate.

5. We also haven’t fixed our shortages of protective equipment for health care workers. As a recent paper from the conservative-leaning Mercatus Center puts it: “Demand has rapidly outstripped supply as the urgent need for personal protective equipment (PPE) such as surgical masks, respirators, gloves, and gowns, as well as for ventilators, continues to grow apace with the COVID-19 global pandemic.”

6. Most places in the United States don’t yet have a plan for aggressive contact tracing — the process of tracking people who may have been exposed to the virus. “Only a few states are recruiting and training the army of public health workers who will be needed to track, trace and isolate anyone exposed to the coronavirus,” Politico’s Joanne Kenen wrote. This kind of tracing has been vital to reducing the virus’s spread in South Korea and elsewhere.

7. The same goes for quarantining: We don’t yet have anything approaching a full plan. A recent Times Op-Ed, by the public health experts Harvey Fineberg, Jim Yong Kim and Jordan Shlain, explains.

The bottom line: If the country reopened now, we would probably end up in lockdown again soon, while also needlessly increasing the death toll from the virus.