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Waiting and Watching…

It is an amazing scene unfolding here in our country – well, at least in my life, in my perspective anyway. The virus continues to make daily headlines, as it should probably should, but it is decidedly all political now in the news as it now focuses on blame, mishandling, and “needless” deaths as a focal point for the election. Of course, I understand that and expect that; regardless of which party one supports both sides will launch attacks on the other for votes – nothing new there. And while I think I have told you before, I am neither red nor blue; I do not vote by party, I vote by candidate and their platform, their views, and their beliefs. I am conservative by nature on some issues and liberal on others.

I will admit that I voted for this current president four years ago: I simply abhorred the opposing candidate and had absolutely zero trust that she was “good” for this country. And I strongly embraced his views on many things, especially on shaking up the good old boy network in Washington and on running this country more like a business than an inherited trust fund to spend frivolously on every little glittering bauble that catches the eye. I wanted change in the White House and I though he was the man to do it. Well, I was right but this wasn’t the change I wanted. He has revealed himself to be pathological liar, a diabolical and scheming serving only his own interests, and a profound megalomaniac. He has done great things with the economy, probably more indirectly than not, and especially of late with the new growth after the devastating impact the pandemic had on the economy. But he is simply not fit to be a president; morals are not a written requirement for the job, but they should be. And I find him completely lacking.

But I am not so sure I see a champion on the opposite of the ring; his opponent seems to carrying some ugly moral baggage of his own, assuming the women who accused him of inappropriate behavior are telling the truth. He also seems to have intermittent cognitive slips from time to time, which I totally understand given his age. But I am not so sure I want a president who forgets where he is or what he was doing! I guess in a crisis, the rush of adrenaline will keep him on point. There is also the fact that he is a career politician and I am not enamored with people who settle into the house or senate and never leave but never do anything extraordinary while they are there. But beyond all that, I am concerned with some of his points on his platform; there are issues upon which he and I disagree. So this will indeed be an interesting election (and four-year term). We’ll see how it shakes out.

However the election is not what I wanted to talk about; it is the growing chasm developing in people over the virus, and I am not talking mask vs no-mask. More and more people are figuratively sticking their heads outside their windows and “checking the weather” and are questioning where we are right now with this virus, that despite the hourly barrage of deaths from the news media. The “experts” still, after eight months now, seem to know anything about this virus. And every time they claim to have discovered something about it, and how we should act to protect ourselves, they shortly thereafter change their minds. Recall that in March, when we were ordered to shelter (some of us anyway) it was for a “couple of weeks” and was meant to “flatten the curve”. They were wrong on the time and they were wrong on the curve and they were wrong to leave such a huge part of our population out there, if indeed the virus was as virulent as claimed.

Then there was the disinfect everything: gas pump handles, ATM keypads, door handles, packages, groceries, and the like. Now? No need – just wash your hands. The list of missteps is long and goes on and on, but you get my point. I completely understand that given the panic and chaos of the initial outbreak, and the stress to get out information to the public, that misinformation, or incorrect information, could get out. But they never really got anything right! The best info seems to have been the mantra preached by the older doctors who have been around the block a trip or two: wash your hands and keep some distance. A doctor friend of mine of some 50 years now stated it best: “as a doctor I learned many, many, years ago to wash my hands regularly and to stay out of the respiratory stream of people. Do that and you will maximize your chances of not getting sick.”

But consider hubris, the ego; a lot of people crave recognition and singular success – it is the competitive nature of man. The drive to win, to be at the top, to be the best, to be “the guy”, to be recognized as the expert. For a brief digress here, consider either of these two diverse subjects: dieting or child rearing. Regardless of your personal experiences with either (or complete lack thereof) think back through your years and try to remember how many times a new “expert” has come along with a book (and resultant tour of TV talk shows) to announce that the way we’ve always done it is wrong and they have revolutionized the way we do it (be that child rearing or dieting or anything else you want to imagine, even doing math i.e. new math). People need to stand themselves apart and in the field of your chosen profession, often that is to come up with a new and different and unique way of doing something and then writing a book about it in hopes that people will latch onto your idea.

For years Doctor Spock was the recognized expert and authority on child care and raising. But that made him the king of the hill and the target for every new doctor to come along wanting to knock him off and take his place. And much the same with dieting – every week a new fad diet seems to come along. It is the king of the hill repeated. It is simply the common response to ambitious and driven young people trying to gain recognition in their field.

Now consider a virus, a pandemic, that literally turned the world upside. And think if the news media outlets covering it 24/7, with every half hour episode striving to unearth some little nugget of information that is new and will generate excitement (which equates to ratings). On almost every broadcast they parade some new doctor, or professor, or epidemiologist, or scientist who has a different though or view on the virus. Think of the hundreds of thousands of people who work in the field of medicine, vaccines, antibiotics, infectious diseases, hospital care, virus research, etc. who is languishing in a daily routine of daily tasks, dreaming of some big breakthrough with which they will gain recognition and respect in their field. Suddenly a pandemic breaks out and the news media is reaching out to different experts almost every hour to put them on TV and in the national spotlight. Anyone asked is going to swell with pride at being asked to speak as an expert – it is time to shine! But they have to say something special, something unique – something that stands them apart from the previous thousand others already interviewed. This is where we’ve gotten most of our “expert” advice and why we get such conflicting and confusing misinformation.

I am not saying these people go onto TV and lie and make things up; but they are under great pressure to say something important and relevant and noteworthy – something that sets them apart and makes them stand out among the peers. This may well be their one chance to be in a spotlight, never mind in the national spotlight. It is human nature – we crave recognition and value. Their subconscious mind will drive them to dig deep and find something to say that makes them stand out. So they offer some different spin on how to avoid catching the virus. Think back on how may different experts appeared on CNN to tell us how far apart we should stay from people, and how many different numbers were thrown out there, ultimately settling upon six feet as the “safe” number, mostly because WHO and CDC both chose that distance. But “experts” still appear on the news media saying it should really be ten feet or some other value.

In my experience, a disciplined scientist or expert will not make a statement of fact until and unless he is satisfied with the accuracy of correctness of that statement. But that one in a million chance to appear on a national television as an expert almost consistently drive them to say things they ordinarily wouldn’t: hubris drive people to say and do things they ordinarily wouldn’t. They throw out thoughts and opinions that are often unproven and unsubstantiated and probably wake up the next morning shaking their head in disbelief at what they said.

Now fast forward to today, to where we are right now with this pandemic. People are beginning to question whether the virus is really as potent as the news media has made it. Most of us all still wear a mask in public, out of the off chance that it might help the other person in case we have it but don’t know it. But people are beginning to wonder that if none of these other people know they are sick, why worry about catching it. If there are no symptoms in 80% of the people, why worry. The obvious answer here is that you don’t want to be in the 20% who do catch it. Or you don’t want to catch it and pass it along to one of your elders. So we still wear the mask. But people are beginning to relax, to loosen up and to drop their guard. My state is not fully open, but fairly close. Hair and nail places are open, bars and restaurants are open indoors, movie theaters are open….I am not sure what is not open. Gatherings were mandated to be less than 10, then increased to 25 (unless it’s a protest lol). Life is largely just like before – not completely but largely – with the exception of masks and limiting seating indoors. And RI infection rates continue to drop. Which is making a lot pf people wonder just what is going on. Yes, people still test positive and people still get hospitalized and we still have one or two deaths attributed to the virus each day.

So I sit here and observe. I observe the tone and position of the “experts” on TV, the advice of the few I truly trust, the actions and reactions of the residents of my state, and the data. We still get all our groceries by online ordering and curbside pick-up. We still only eat take out. We still do all we can to stay out of stores, although I have to say I probably end up in a store at least twice a week now. And we still disinfect the groceries. And most all those things we do are out of respect to my wife’s fears of the virus. She is so fearful of it that she can’t sleep most nights, staying awake worrying. I have been convinced there is no need to wipe down the groceries or mail or packages for at least a couple of months now, but do so to ease her fears. But even she is beginning to wane; she finally became willing to get takeout food, begrudgingly at first but willing to try; now it is a Friday night staple. She is also now on the cusp of eating at a restaurant – outdoors – but none the less, a lessening of the defense posture.

And I see that everywhere I look. Yesterday I went arrowhead hunting with a friend – a young man I hired into my department and trained and promoted. He is a fine, responsible, upstanding young man; considered and intelligent. We had talked about doing this over a year ago as I was preparing to retire but it just never happened. He texted me out of the blue yesterday, asking if we could go hunt together and we did. I went with both excitement and trepidation; he was outside my “safe circle” – well outside it – working in a close contact job in a place that employs over 5,000 people and that operates all three shifts seven days a week. The odds of contact through him are far greater than through the life that I lead. And I was uncertain about how he felt about it. So when we met, I did not shake hands and from still a great distance away, asked if he wanted me to wear a mask; he did not. As we talked, later, he explained that the virus had caught attention and he had done what everyone else did – listened to the media and avoided contact, wiped down his mail and groceries, etc.

But he still had to work – an essential worker he kept going in every day, but fearfully. Then days turned weeks and weeks turned to months and people at work were not getting sic; no one he knew was getting sick. Then every single worker in both facilities, totaling over 15,000 people, were tested. And the positive results were absolutely miniscule. This despite the fact that they all work elbow to elbow. Yes – masks are required there; but so are hard hats and safety glasses. And as an ex-manager who used to do several safety walks every week, you didn’t have to walk very far or look very hard to find people not wearing their hard hats or glasses. And of course it is exactly the same with masks, peak around the corner or inside that compartment and no one is wearing their masks. And so he began to question what the media was peddling to him. He wears a mask in stores and keeps a six-foot distance and that’s all he does now; no more wiping the mail and groceries. When we parted, we shook hands. I still sanitized my hands when I got into the truck, but out of respect for my wife and not fear of the virus. Living without fear; a difficult task made harder by the media these days. Stay well dear reader!

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