What Are Your Priorities?
Covid-19 has changed this country, perhaps forever. Faced with this new reality, what would your priorities be?
Americans were feeling pretty good at the end of 2019. We ushered in the New Year with a resurgent economy and record low unemployment.
Sure, we heard the predictable complaints about our president. We were fed a daily laundry list of all the bad things that had befallen the county since Donald Trump astounded the Liberal Establishment and snuck into the White House. We were told that his shortcomings would destroy the country…….unless we could force him from office. Or, at the very least, deny him a second term.
The shortcomings attributed to President Trump would soon pale in comparison to what was about to hit the country.
On January 9th, the World Health Organization announced that a strange form of pneumonia had been discovered in Wuhan, China. At the time, little was known about this illness; but on January 21st, the first case of coronavirus was confirmed in the United States. On that same date, a Chinese scientist confirmed that human to human infection was occurring.
Since then, the Covid-19 pandemic has devastated this country in ways we could not have imagined.
Death by Covid-19 was the stuff that horror movies were made of sepsis-related organ failure, abnormal blood clotting, and respiratory failure. More troubling was the insidious nature of the disease. An infected individual could be a-symptomatic for two to five days after contracting the virus. Some never showed symptoms at all, thus making it almost impossible to prevent further spread. Furthermore, the infection was not limited to human-to-human contact. It could
also occur by touching an infected surface.
The health consequences were bad enough; but the ripple effect on our daily lives was devastating, creating disruptions unseen in our nation’s history.
Hospitals were overwhelmed. Doctors and ER personnel worked to exhaustion. Protective gear was in short supply. Patients needing non-coronavirus care were turned away.
Office workers were told to work from home. Business travel virtually stopped. Conferences and conventions were canceled.
And office workers were not the only ones hit. The hospitality industry ground to a halt. Movie theaters closed, as did theme parks. Sporting events were canceled. Restaurants and night clubs were ordered shut. For those businesses, working from home was not an option. Many businesses were closed permanently. For others, the only path to survival would be massive layoffs.
Many well-known corporations did not survive. Hertz Global Holdings, the car-rental company, tried. They laid off 12,000 employees and furloughed and additional 4,000 in March. It was not enough. They filed bankruptcy on May 22nd, ending more than 100 years as an icon in their industry.
Unemployment claims skyrocketed. In February 2020, the national unemployment rate was 3.5%, statistically representing “full employment.” Two months later, the rate skyrocketed to 14.7%. Even with generous additional benefit payments, many families no longer had an income to pay for even the basic necessities. Rents went unpaid, causing a ripple effect hitting landlords. They, in turn, were not able to make mortgage payments
Bad news all around. But what if you had the power to sweep our ineffective Congress aside and enact legislation that would address our country’s needs? (And, yes, we know someone in Washington who thinks that he actually does have that power; but that will have to be the subject of a separate essay.)
What would you do? The challenges we face are staggering. Pandemic illness, loss of life, isolation, civil unrest, economic collapse, the list is seemingly endless.
Consider the following list of options. (Note that these are listed alphabetically and do not reflect the author’s priorities.) Given your imaginary power, what would your priorities be? Put the most urgent goals at the top of your list to accurately reflect those priorities.
1) Personal Protective Measures (mandatory masks and social distancing)
2) Public Awareness Messages
3) Put in place a national testing program to help isolate those infected
4) Provide expanded unemployment (cash grants) benefits to those who were laid off
5) Provide loans to business who agree to forego layoffs
6) Restrict Attendance at All Gatherings. Enforce strict limitations on the number of people allowed to frequent restaurants and night clubs at any given time
a) Apply the same requirements to all sporting events
b) Ditto protest rallies, conventions and worship services
7) Support food distribution centers
8) Suspend tax filing until employment data show recovery
9) Underwrite biopharma research to develop an effective vaccine
Feel free to add any additional priorities that you feel important. Now shuffle your list, putting the most important ones first.
Okay, good. Now flip the switch. You no longer have to power to mandate the measures listed above. You have just returned that power to Congress. What would their priorities be? Would they select from your list and enact measures to get us through this awful time? Or would they put another priority on top of their list? Would their priority be:
1) Forget “Good of the Country.” Instead, use the pandemic, and all of the sufferings that go with it, to destroy your political opponents and gain unassailable power stretching into the future.
2) No need to list other priorities. They have been rendered irrelevant by the above.
If Congress fails to act, what could you do? Vote.
(See my essays “How Much Pain” and “Magic Wand.”) Truth hurts.