Pandemic tests the resilience and adherence to public health recommendations
By Dennis Archambault
Just as the “hope” lights are burning out on our porch – a recommendation by Gov. Whitmer to keep our spirits high by relighting holiday lights during the early days of the pandemic lockdown – existential fatigue and the dark days of winter are setting in. While Michigan had been holding its own with the infection rate, the numbers are slowly increasing, not only in this state but throughout the nation. Many are concerned that the flu season will compound the health risk.
A New York Times article, “Infections in Europe show a troubling trend” (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/18/todayspaper/quotation-of-the-day-infections-in-us-and-europe-show-troubling-trend.html), noted “in sharp contrast to the spring, the rituals of hope and unity that helped people endure the first surge of the virus have given way to exhaustion and frustration.” Public health officials are not only concerned about the science of managing the disease, but also the psychology of the population. They need to motivate the will to continue the struggle and limiting personal freedom in lieu of the greater good.
“Citizens have made huge sacrifices,” noted Dr. Hans Kluge, the World Health Organization’s regional director for Europe. “It has come at an extraordinary cost, which has exhausted all of us, regardless of where we live, or we do.” As the Times article points out, we now find ourselves at an “odd mix of resignation and heedlessness.” People are taking greater risk – albeit with precaution in some cases, others not – to not let the pandemic influence their sense of normal living. They are going to gyms, dining out, socializing with friends – and at times becoming lax with masking, social distancing, and simple handwashing. On one hand, we’ve become a bit careless, and on the other hand, we’re simply moving on. But as has been noted by several public health authorities repeatedly, the virus is not moving on.
Absent leadership from the federal government, Michigan has had to rely on the judgment of the governor and her public health staff. That judgment led to prudent decisions first to lockdown social, institutional, and business operations, then gradually reopen them with strict guidelines. That helped flatten the curve, relieving the health system and saving lives. But political backlash and related judicial judgment has eroded the powers of the state executive branch, relying on public health orders and the will of the population to do what needs to be done during a worldwide pandemic: adopt strict social discipline and personal hygiene.
The Times article notes that in some countries – South Korea, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, and China – have adopted and maintained stringent public health practices. Infections have stayed low for months in those countries. China’s economy has rebounded.
Americans haven’t had to live within government controls for a long time. Many have used political resistance to limit the role of government in containing the pandemic. Some, as we know, have taken to insurrection as a means of dealing with the issue.
Much has been made of the isolation caused by the pandemic and the polarization caused by the election season. But this is a time that tests the resilience of the country and its people. Limited social mobility and strict personal hygiene must be the norm for a semblance of normalcy to return sometime in the future.
Fortunately, holiday lights are returning to store shelves.
Dennis Archambault is vice president of Public Affairs for Authority Health.