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The more data, the better

You might think the average American should be entitled to know information that could save their life, their family’s lives or their neighbors’ lives.

Well, think again.

Why doesn’t the state of Indiana want you to know how long testing takes? Why do you have to find this information on comment threads on Facebook from people who’ve been tested?

Why can’t we know how many tests are being done in our local community? Why are we not allowed to know the exact number of ventilators within our county borders?

Maybe it’s just chaos or maybe it’s because the government doesn’t think we’re capable of interpreting the data.

When facts aren’t provided to the public, a lot of “maybes” get tossed around.

Without transparency, rumors begin to swirl like a destructive tornado. People are left to take wild guesses (emphasis on the word wild) that then turn into misinformation. It’s hard to protect people from a tornado after it’s torn through a town.

Instead of seeing data, our nation is hearing: “Trust me, we’re good.”

Social distancing is helping flatten the curve, which should allow for our healthcare facilities to handle this virus as it spreads without going over capacity.

Please, do your part to protect yourself, your family and others by heeding the warnings from the health care officials.

If too many people get sick all at once, hospitals will need to choose which patient gets to use a ventilator like we’ve seen from news reports out of Iran, China and Italy. This shouldn’t be alarming to us. It should alert us.

Let’s do everything in our power to stop this from happening here.

It’s clear that the government is taking steps to protect our health, and our local officials along with our masked heroes are giving their all to ensure our safety, but we need more transparency and as much information as possible.

Our local officials are doing a fine job of sharing the knowledge they have at their disposal, but we need our state government to do more.

The Indiana State Department of Health posts the number of tests completed across the state each day, but they should also be posting the number of tests completed for each county.

Right now there are counties in Indiana that don’t have any confirmed cases. But people in those counties shouldn’t get a false sense of security. Like Grant County officials said before the first positive test showed up: act like everyone has this virus.

No matter how poorly our federal or state officials are doing, we – as a community – should do whatever is within our power to stick together and listen to what the health professionals are telling us.

These doctors, nurses and heroes have one agenda: stop COVID-19.

Since we don’t have the data to properly inform ourselves on how many tests are being done or how many ventilators are at each healthcare facility, we need to err on the side of caution.

Do your part. Stay informed. Inform others. And always fight for transparency.

Some thoughts on a 'new normal'

As a retired physician I have been following the developments of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic with interest. I think there will continue to be great disruptions to our economy for the short term. We are all becoming familiar with the obvious disruptions to our “old normal” routines. But I believe a “new normal” will be developing in several months.

My contemporaries are all too fond of saying, “That’s the way we’ve always done it.” But how it has always been done is rarely the best way something can be done. Innovations always lead to improved methods of accomplishing tasks, and Americans are great improvisers.

Today, the need to keep our healthcare workers as safe as possible has led to a rapid increase in the use of tele-medicine. Many types of routine office visits can be conducted remotely with modern technology. Grandma would say, “Not exactly new technology – I have been on FaceTime with my grandchildren every week for years.”

Cancer doctors are constantly interacting with patients who have compromised immune systems. In this crisis time, they are being more vigilant than most of us in trying to minimize the risk of acquiring the infection and inadvertently passing it on to their vulnerable patients. Using tele-medicine for all their visits (other than surgical procedures) can greatly reduce the risks faced by their patients. I expect this will become the new normal for many types of health encounters in the future – an improvement that will have been “sped up” by our need to cope with this emergency.

I am quite optimistic about the opportunities that will develop after the first month of experiencing widespread infections. Once it is confirmed (and I fully expect it will be) that after someone has recovered from their infection, they have immunity and cannot be carriers, amazing changes will occur. This army of the recovered will lead our economic comeback. Unlike our required behavior now (stay home, avoid others, do not go to work, etc.) these heroes will be able to do the things in most need now – safely provide hands-on services. Recovered physicians can care for the ill Coronavirus patients while their colleagues can better avoid those infected. A Covid-19 recovered oncologist will be the safest physician to interact with frail patients who must avoid the infection.

The same will be possible in many industries. These folks will be the most valuable employees for some time. Imagine a restaurant staffed with employees wearing tee shirts confirming they are “Covid-19 Survivors.” Business as usual can resume for that restaurant when they open back up just for folks who have been infected, recovered and no longer need to stay home. Within months, there will be millions of “survivors” to resume doing business and to work where they are most needed and valued. Education, healthcare delivery and commuting habits are all important parts of our economy that can possibly become unexpectedly and dramatically improved by the innovations we develop in the coming months.

This pandemic is a terrible burden and the costs will be with us a long time. However, we should remain optimistic that the eventual recovery will provide opportunities for a better future. Only our refusal to recognize these opportunities will hold us back.

Biden fails to lead virus fight

Give Joe Biden some credit. On Jan. 27, he published an op-ed in USA Today recognizing that the coronavirus outbreak could become a big problem. But he devoted nearly the entire piece to bashing President Trump – who was then fighting off impeachment from Biden’s old Democratic colleagues on Capitol Hill – and nearly none of it to explaining what he, Joe Biden, would do to fight the pandemic.

Since then, where has Biden been? It’s been eight weeks since the Iowa caucuses, when Biden began a terrible stretch at the polls that threatened his presidential candidacy. It’s been three weeks since South Carolina and Super Tuesday, when he roared back and took a big lead over rival Bernie Sanders. Two weeks since primaries in Michigan and other states, when Biden took a prohibitive lead in the delegate race. And it’s been one week since primaries in Florida and elsewhere, when Biden essentially became the presumptive nominee.

During that time, the coronavirus outbreak has turned into a historic national crisis.

So what has the man who wants to be the next president, now confident of his path to his party’s nomination, done? Not a lot. Biden is “largely out of sight hunkered down in Delaware,” The New York Times reported recently.

Biden did give a speech on March 12 to explain what he would do as president to confront the virus. But his plan was not much different from what the Trump administration has already been doing. And why did Biden, after his initial op-ed, let so much time pass without offering a comprehensive proposal for dealing with the crisis? Especially since his main criticism of Trump is that the president has not acted swiftly enough?

In short, Biden has been slow to explain why he would have reacted more quickly than Trump.

Now, Biden, who has devoted lots of time during the virus crisis to holding “virtual” fundraisers, is playing catch-up with a plan to start “briefings” from his house in Delaware. “They put a new high-speed line into my home,” Biden told reporters. “They’ve converted a recreation room, basically, into a television studio.”

Meanwhile, when he has addressed the crisis, Biden has been offering little more than boilerplate. Look at this, from a recent virtual fundraiser, according to a pool report: “This is a time for this nation to come together, because, folks, we’re all in this together. This virus doesn’t care whether you’re a Democrat or Republican. It doesn’t discriminate on the basis of your gender or race or ethnicity or anything else. And from the Great Depression to two world wars to 9/11 to the pandemic of 1918, this country has always overcome every crisis we faced in our history. We’re gonna overcome this one, too.”

Biden had nothing more to offer in a recent web ad. He focused on a small snippet of Trump’s news conference Saturday, where the president took questions from NBC’s Peter Alexander. After an extended exchange with Alexander, Trump snapped, “You’re a terrible reporter.” The ad was an attempt to contrast Trump’s temperament with Biden’s, with Biden saying things like, “This is about America. This is about the world. This is about how we bring people together.”

The Trump campaign has fired back. “When President Trump took the critical step of restricting travel from China in response to the coronavirus, Biden called it ‘xenophobic,’” campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said recently. “Most of what Biden says the government should do are things President Trump is already doing.”

Biden has, in fact, accused Trump of xenophobia in the virus crisis. When the president announced travel restrictions on China, Biden cited what he called Trump’s “record of hysteria and xenophobia, hysterical xenophobia.” When Trump referred to coronavirus as a “foreign virus,” Biden said the president was “(falling} back on xenophobia.”

On the substance of Biden’s plans, an earlier Trump campaign statement said Biden “plagiarized” his response from the president – echoing a long-ago incident from Biden’s 1988 presidential campaign when he dropped out after it was revealed he had plagiarized a British politician’s speech.

Now, with the briefings, Biden is starting a new phase of his campaign. Yes, the briefings will be about coronavirus, but they will also be about Biden’s standing in the Democratic Party. For a party out of the White House, in an election year, the presidential nominee is the leader of the party. Biden is not the nominee yet, but he is all but there. Does he appear to be the leader of the Democratic Party? No. Meanwhile, other Democrats, like New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, are actually in power and on television every day – giving briefings – dealing with the crisis.

So Biden’s new move is a front-runner playing catch-up while the rest of the political world deals with an unprecedented crisis.