Posts Tagged ‘Coronavirus’

 

America’s War Against Older People

Posted on: May 7th, 2020 by Hayim Herring No Comments

You’ve heard of America’s “war on poverty” and “war on drugs,” but now some in government are waging war against older people, namely anyone who is age 60 and up. Politicians and citizens have divided into two factions on the issue of managing COVID-19. One camp emphasizes the cost of closing businesses, the other, the value of life. These two positions are irreconcilable because they are rooted in different values, similar to the values wars that “Pro-lifers” and “Pro-choicers continue to wage on the abortion issue 47 years after Roe vs. Wade. If we want to mitigate the likelihood of another wedge issue that divides Americans, we need to develop an age-friendly option between this binary choice of “opening up” or “closing down” public life.

There are seven generations alive today, an unprecedented number in human history. In many Western societies, age-segregation is the norm, and America leads in being the West’s most age-segregated society. Although age-segregation is relatively new and historically abnormal, age-isolating living arrangements, like gated communities, independent living facilities, retirement villages, and apartments that cater to Millennials, are typical in the United States. In the workplace, age discrimination beginning at about age 50 years was a significant issue pre-COVID-19. Older generations often do not value the skills and agility of younger workers, and younger generations are often oblivious to the critical experience of those with decades of experience.

 

 

This dynamic is the breeding ground for workplace discrimination, and it’s less costly for companies to swap out older employees for younger ones anyway. As older people are at a higher risk for COVID-19 complications, age discrimination in the workplace will likely worsen unless we use the pandemic to help us value people of all ages equally.

In my recent bookConnecting Generations: Bridging the Boomer, Gen X, and Millennial Divide, I interviewed thirty Boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennials who reported that they do not have a close friend who is younger or older than they are. That didn’t surprise me; it just saddened me because of the mutual satisfaction that people could experience if they had even one friend from other generations.

We’re now seeing the consequences of the lack of intergenerational connections: a culture war over COVID-19. People who argue for the reopening of public life are correct in highlighting the damaging effects of a shuttered economy, time lost educating children, and a growing mental health crisis caused by physical distancing. On the other side of the debate, we can prevent thousands more from dying and mitigate the number of people who will become ill and have complications if we don’t reopen public life haphazardly.

Each side can’t see past its worldview. Those who prioritize the economic cost of the virus inadvertently devalue human life, and those who prioritize the value of human life unintentionally underestimate the consequences of closure. That is why I distrust how both factions use the phrase, “protecting our seniors.”

A caring definition of “protecting our seniors” means making it possible for those who are over age 60 to contribute their wisdom and experience to society while protecting them from the ravages of COVID-19. This version of “protecting our seniors” requires workplaces and communities to reconfigure physical spaces for seniors so that they would be at a much lower risk for infection, and the Federal and state governments to systematically test, trace, and track infected people.

People in this camp take a long view of the Coronavirus and understand that even after we’ve mitigated its lethal effects, there will be new pandemics. Outbreaks of HIV (1981-present), SARS (2002-3), H5N1 Bird Flu (2003-2007), H1N1 Swine Flu (2009-10), MERS (2012-present), Ebola (2013-16), Zika Virus (2015-16) are pandemic trend data. They enable us to predict with a high degree of confidence that new epidemics will happen. The changes that we make because of COVID-19 now will also better prepare us for the future.

A sinister meaning of “protecting our seniors” means imprisoning people who are older in their homes, with periodic furloughs outside for good behavior. Policymakers who think like this don’t want to make painful economic and social adjustments so that people of all ages are equally valued. They’re either waiting for a vaccine, or for enough older people to be infected or die until we reach herd immunity. How else is it possible to explain at this late date the inability to do extensive testing and an unwillingness to make mask-wearing mandatory when in public? And how else can we explain the cruel indifference toward older adults in nursing homes whose death count we will probably never know?

A third option is to adopt an age-friendly approach in which all generations are invested in each other’s success and are willing to share in adjusting their way of life. Seniors would have to compromise some of their freedoms and voluntarily shelter in place when the virus surges and conduct business at inconvenient off-peak hours. Workplaces would have to invest in making their factories and offices safe for older workers by reducing the number of employees by staggering hours and providing training, equipment, and incentives for older employees to work from home. Young and old would make shared sacrifices in return for our collective emotional and financial welfare.

Don’t expect politicians of either party to rally us together during this crisis. Those days disappeared with President Bush and 9/11. But it doesn’t take an active Congress or presidential leadership to launch a grassroots movement for an age-friendly approach to living with COVID-19 and future pandemics so that politicians must respond. An “either/or” choice of “open life up” or “keep it closed” is a losing strategy with heavy financial, economic, educational, and emotional losses. But an age-friendly approach to community health will encourage all generations to be kind and responsible in the face of this and future pandemics.

 

COVID Comedy. Really?

Posted on: April 27th, 2020 by Hayim Herring No Comments

COVID life sucks. There’s no polite way of naming the truth of this pandemic, so let’s say it plainly. My family members, friends, and my wife and I have been directly or indirectly sickened by the Coronavirus. But as with all heavy things in my life, I refuse only to feel sad because that makes me feel powerless. I also choose to find some irony and laughter in the ugliest of situations because that helps me feel lighter, optimistic, and creative. I’m sharing some humorous pandemic moments with the hope that it will make you momentarily smile, and with a favor that you share your lighter stories with me.

Item: I’m an avid listener of Audible books. When I recently searched for recommendations, Audible’s algorithm recommended The Plague, a novel by Albert Camus, published in 1947. The Plague chronicles the responses of politicians, doctors, and ordinary citizens to a fatal epidemic. They move from denial to acceptance, from voluntary to mandatory isolation, and from heroism in battling the plague to resignation of its devastating toll until it eventually vanishes. When I told a friend what I was reading, he shouted, “Why in the world are you reading that?” I explained that unlike the fake science coming from President L.C. (Lysol, Clorox) Trump at his Make Me Great Again press rallies, Camus offered honest insights into how a plague transforms us individually and collectively. But my friend had a point – ironic that I read this novel.

Item: I have apnea and often have difficulty falling asleep. Of course, even if you don’t have apnea, you’re unlikely to experience a restful night’s sleep. I started listening to a podcast called Sleep With Me, whose host can make the dullest clergyperson sound electrifying. It’s an edgy name for a podcast, but a droning host is an excellent remedy for a better-quality sleep.

 Item: I also started playing trumpet again. My trumpet teacher sent me a link to Andrea Guifreddi, a trumpeter whose golden tone can charm anyone into believing that a horn has a soft, warm sound. He has a series of practice videos on YouTube called, Play With Me that makes practice enjoyable. But it’s embarrassing to respond to people who ask how I’ve been spending my time during the pandemic. Try explaining, “By relaxing with Sleep With Me and Play With Me.”

 Item: I read that many Millennials have discovered the art of baking bread and that sales of dry yeast had surged. When my wife decided to bake bread two weeks ago, she searched for yeast on our local supermarket’s online site. When she told me that other unexpected yeast-related products appeared, I offered to search on Amazon. Oops – same results! But there’s good news: there are again countless options for buying dry yeast. And there’s more good news: if you order toilet paper today, there are some options that don’t result in searches that read, “currently unavailable and we don’t know when this item will be in stock” or “estimated delivery January 19, 2021.”

One of my children accuses me of spoiling levity by turning it into preachy moments. I plead guilty as charged, so here we go. There’s a Talmudic story about two brothers who are destined for a place in the eternal time-share or Heaven. A rabbi, curious to learn why, asked them what they did for a living. They said, “We are jesters, and we cheer up the depressed” (TB Ta’anit 22a). My friends tell me that my funnies are feeble and that the only time that I exhibit good humor is when I eat a brand of ice cream with that name. But if I made you smile for a moment, please pay it forward by sharing your COVID-19 comedy. We can all use a Spirit lift!

 

The Art of the Pandemic or the War Against COVID-19

Posted on: March 23rd, 2020 by Hayim Herring No Comments

The American people need to know we’re facing a different enemy than we have ever faced.

This enemy hides in shadows and has no regard for human life. This is an enemy who preys on innocent and unsuspecting people…but it won’t be able to run for cover forever.

— President George W. Bush, September 12, 2001, televised address

 

“I look at it (COVID-19), I view it as, in a sense, a wartime president. I mean, that’s what we’re fighting” – that’s what President Trump said on March 18. The president’s analogy was solid. Every U.S. citizen is imperiled, and our soldiers – healthcare professionals and all those who support them – are on the front lines. But if this is a war, why has Commander-in-Chief only invoked but minimally exercised the Defense Production Act to mobilize industries to counterattack?

 

The Defense Production Act could, for example:

war on covid19

There’s an unsettling parallel between the last time we declared war in 2001 and President Trump’s declaration of war against COVID-19. The government sent troops that lacked protective gear to the front lines and then did not ramp up production of the equipment that soldiers needed. Our elected leaders did not heed those in the military who warned that this could be a long war. An early surge in forces could have prevented many injuries and loss of life.

We can’t fault a sitting president or Congress for accumulated gaps and failure of oversight in our military. There were cracks in the military that had been exposed earlier and ignored. But, once a decision is made to move to a wartime footing, we expect our leaders to act with urgency, match existing resources to an embattled reality, and incentivize new capabilities to meet rising demands. And we expect them to be able to focus on the present and think a few steps ahead.

Comparisons with the “War Against Terror” should alarm us. President Trump is correct in highlighted the deficiencies in emergency health care that he inherited. But he is responsible and should be held accountable for actions that he could have taken earlier to mitigate the damage, and for inaction once the severity of the danger became clear.

Implementing a coordinated national strategy for fighting this war – and not just signing a declaration permitting the creation of a policy at a future date – is the most critical action that we need now. Now is not a time for the president to start writing The Art of the Pandemic. It’s time for the Federal government to build a supply chain that can at least beat the enemy back. Musing hopefully about the “pent-up demand” that will dramatically reverse the fall of our economy instead of helping our healthcare workers is not a future-oriented strategy for picking up the pieces once this war has abated.

Our presidents express horror when other governments commit atrocities against their citizens. How is withholding help different from inflicting casualties on the public? I know this is harsh. But those who don’t pull the levers of support that can lead to fewer losses, you are now on notice. Please send a message to President Trump, and your elected officials in Congress and the Senate, to act like we’re at war and not just talk about being at war.

 

What COVID-19 Can Heal within Us

Posted on: March 19th, 2020 by Hayim Herring No Comments

“Paradoxically, social distancing is renewing our need for social connections.”

As American citizens, we’re unaccustomed to hearing phrases like “mobilizing a nation.” The last time that U.S. citizens mobilized was during World War II. The Roosevelt Administration rationed foods like meat, dairy, coffee, shortening, and oils. Also, it limited consumer purchases, including automobiles, tires, gasoline, fuel oil, coal, nylon, and shoes, so that our Armed Forces could use their raw materials. These were federally mandated and not recommended changes. Some of them, like food rations, ended with the successful conclusion of the war. Others, like desegregating the military and opening the workforce more broadly to women, became the tipping point for permanent, welcomed changes.

The Korean War (June 25, 1950 – July 27, 1953) didn’t demand a collective sacrifice, and the Vietnam War tore our country apart. When terrorists attacked the Twin Towers and Pentagon on 9/11, President Bush unified us with his empathetic call to grieve yet continue to live normally. That would deny terrorists of their coveted victory to curtail our freedoms.

Protection, Prevention of Coronavirus Covid-19

But for the first time in American history, President Bush dismissed the need for self-sacrifice that makes a hoped-for victory in war possible. Shortly after the 9/11 attack, a reporter asked President Bush, “Sir, how much of a sacrifice are ordinary Americans going to have to be expected to make in their daily lives, in their daily routines?” President Bush responded, “Our hope, of course, is that they make no sacrifice whatsoever.” We can appreciate his optimism but critique a lost opportunity to mobilize an entire nation for a multi-front war. As the U.S. Army is volunteer, a tiny fraction of individuals who fought the war, and their families, bore its painful personal costs. Our army shielded most Americans from the sacrifices that fighters and their families would make. Still, we can look back admiringly to the president’s call for national unity and be grateful for his efforts to elicit the best in ourselves.

Paradoxically, social distancing is renewing our need for social connections. COVID-19 gives us a choice to maintain the destructive political discourse that we’ve become accustomed to or regain our understanding of self-sacrifice as the path back to improving the lives of every citizen. Especially since 2004, Democrats and Republicans have equally eroded civility in politics and governing. Hostility across party lines is so bad that it is polluting our relationships. In the not too distant past, religion was a taboo topic when it came to relationships. Today, party affiliation can be the kiss of death for a potential relationship. Drawing on our collective experience of 9/11, and our individual experiences of unsolicited acts of generosity, every citizen can ease up on the pull of self-indulgence and tug harder on the reins of self-sacrifice. We can choose to turn the temporary medical need for social distancing to a permanent imperative for broader social connections.

There is no “silver lining” in the Coronavirus. It is wildly contagious and lethal, and we’re adapting to how to live through it. Illness, death, social isolation, and economic recession – some of these losses are permanent and irretrievable, and others will take years to overcome. If we believe it’s doomsday, we’re likely to reinforce our “Like Hell I’ll help you if you don’t think like me” attitude.

I’m more optimistic that we’ll choose the path of altruism and reciprocal kindness. We see the emergence of a global phenomenon called “caremongering.” Caremongering is the antidote to fearmongering or scaremongering. It means spreading concrete acts of kindness instead of meanness. According to BBC News, “The first ‘caremongering’ group was set up by Mita Hans with the help of Valentina Harper and others. Valentina explained the meaning behind the name. “Scaremongering is a big problem. We wanted to switch that around and get people to connect on a positive level, to connect with each other.” Caremongering can include organizing neighborhood sing-a-longs and concerts from apartment balconies, shopping or preparing meals (following CDC guidelines) for the elderly, leading an online family activity for parents and children, offering necessities like toilet paper and soap to those in need, and sharing acts of kindness to alleviate anxiety and potentially motivate others to act.

We will find ways to mitigate or cure this most recent infection. Social connections will enable us to navigate the pandemic and its social and economic aftermath. But will we be bold enough to let the COVID-19 virus be the catalyst to heal our relationships with others, and address other urgent domestic and global problems that need our attention?