OP-ED: Coronavirus concerns and countermeasures

Chris Hertig
Spring Garden Township
An information sheet on the new coronavirus is posted in the lobby of the South Shore Rehabilitation and Skilled Care Center, Friday, March 6, 2020, in Rockland, Mass. The new coronavirus is posing a special challenge for nursing homes and other facilities that provide care for the elderly. Staff members are trying to strike a balance between protecting a particularly vulnerable population from illness and allowing their loved ones to visit. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Current concern with the coronavirus is well-founded. Different strains and mutations may develop. Vaccines are a ways off. Warmer weather may very well not be the cure as some would assume. The Spanish Flu came back after the summer with a vengeance, a left jab followed by a much harder right cross. We can’t say that summer weather is the panacea because we don’t know. Finally, there are areas of the world where colder temperatures can maintain the virus.

System overload characterizes pandemics as well as other serious disruptions such as hurricanes and floods. Current resources are never adequate as we don’t “shingle the roof when the sun is shining.” History teaches us this. But history never repeats itself as the conditions are never the same. Instead history parallels itself. In so doing, it may aid us in foreseeing future shortfalls in terms of resources.  

While the history of epidemics and pandemics should be studied and learned from, there are limitations on what it may reveal. Contemporary mass transit systems make historical lessons difficult to discern. Greater population density amplifies the spread of communicable disease, so our vulnerability is greater than in the past. Social media and 24 hour media are relatively new. We must view the panics of past crises and attempt to predict how they will pan out in the future (guesstimate). Tabletop exercises are certainly in order.

More:2 more presumptive coronavirus cases found in Pennsylvania

More:U.S. prisons, jails on alert for spread of coronavirus

More:Indoor Special Olympics in York cancelled due to coronavirus concerns

Leaders in government, industry and religion need to be especially careful about what they say. Any statements made should be scrupulously examined beforehand. “Seat of the pants” statements can create irrevocable harm. Communications protocols must be followed. Perhaps this is a good time for organizations to review and practice them. The axiom that “systems fail only upon being audited” is spot on.

Politics and finger-pointing have no place in the management of mass emergencies. Unfortunately, they are a reality, as we have seen from both current and past pandemics. Serious crises that impact people’s lives are remembered long after the events.

Quarantines are problematic in terms of enforcement and compliance. Enforcement raises various legal questions. Compliance may be the larger challenge in a self-absorbed, self-indulgent, “me first” society. We already saw a case where a self-quarantined person went to a mixer. More will follow, particularly as time in quarantine increases.

Daily behavioral change that puts safety first and foremost is necessary. Proper hand-washing, social distancing, wiping down surfaces, etc. Ensuring that others adopt safe practices is also important. Family members, employees, students, etc., must all be given good examples to follow.

One aspect of behavioral change is in our reading beyond the headlines. We need to “read like lawyers.” A recent headline about airlines canceling flights led me to believe that all domestic flights were suspended. In reality, the prudent business decision of cutting flights by 10% to 20% due to fewer passengers was the real story. Caution is appropriate; panic is not.

Perhaps critical reading habits will be the greatest challenge. It could also be the greatest reward, as it may help mitigate the dumbing down of our society.

— Spring Garden Township resident Chris Hertig operates the the Security History Group on Facebook. He speaks and writes on police and security history.