We have had the opportunity to learn a lot in the last few weeks. Words that we had never heard of are now part of our regular vocabulary. We have learned about our friends, families, leaders, and ourselves. What many people have not understood is the need to separate fact from fiction and reasoning from conjecture.
Unfortunately, the desire of leaders to ignore facts that don’t suit their purposes, treat settled science as false, and replace problem solving and responsibility with fictionalized blame finding are already hurting us and our ability to get past the pandemic. “We’re all in this together” has been replaced by “Me first, and I don’t care what happens to everyone else.”
In the end, all of the distortions will not suppress what science tells us is likely to happen. With that in mind, we want to look at three scientific facts we have to keep in mind as we move forward.
- We’ve Only Begun to Fight
Over the last month most of us have done a great job in helping control the spread of the virus. We’ve stayed home, practiced social distancing, and made other significant lifestyle changes. By doing so, we have helped reduce the total number of infections and lives lost. While the number of deaths is still astronomical, it would have been much worse.
There is one thing we have not been able to accomplish: Social distancing does not kill the virus.
Although we feel safer, the disease is still there, and the more we expose ourselves to it, the danger of infection increases. The question is not will the number of infections increase when we all return to work, school, or shopping, it is how much will it increase. This is not a prediction, it is scientific fact.
It’s not that I am “afraid” of the virus. I am afraid of people who, based on their own personal desires, are willing to expose others and contribute to their deaths. They want us to believe we are safe, that because they are healthy, the quarantine is not necessary. They choose to deny the virus is still there, and that they may not be as healthy as they think,
My brother got the virus after being exposed at work. He showed no symptom during the next two weeks, and would not have known he had it if he had not been tested at work. During the next two weeks, he could have exposed hundreds of people to the virus who in turn each could have exposed hundreds more.
The virus is still there, and viruses spread exponentially. Reopening of businesses needs to happen, but as Dr. Robert Pearl explained in Forbes magazine, it must happen in a planned, reasoned manner based on scientific facts.
Medical requirements for reopening the country must include limiting exposure, likely for a year. Restaurants and shops should reopen only under three conditions: (1) community hospitals have additional capacity to handle an uptick in demand, (2) all local businesses agree to restrict indoor capacity based on the six-foot rule, and (3) all staff wear masks. This must also include making tests free and convenient.
When reopening was first discussed, principles such as these were part of the discussion. Lately, we are told these goals are no longer required, and reopening is necessary even if cases are still increasing. The administration even tells us testing is no longer important, perhaps because it will reveal increasing numbers will show the failure of their policies.
We know the virus is not going to “disappear”, despite the claims of the President and his staff. There is no miracle cure awaiting. Social distancing is a prime reason we have done as well as we have. Ignoring science will halt the progress we helped make and lead to more deaths. I am also certain those crying the loudest to be freed will not accept any responsibility for the outcome.
As Dr. Pearl and others point out, the Spanish Flu of 1918 reminds us that the “second wave” of a virus can prove even more deadly than the first.
- Facts Save Lives When We Let Them
We all face tough decisions in the coming weeks and months. We need to begin reopening the economy and society, but must do so in a planned, systemic manner. As Dr. Pearl points out, “We can’t allow politics or panic to push our nation too far in either direction.”
Unfortunately, recent experiences highlight the difficulty many have in reading and understanding evidence, as well as separating reliable, fact-based sources from junk on the internet.
Len Niehoff, a Professor at the University of Michigan Law School, wrote, “COVID-19 has revealed our societal failure to understand what evidence is and to respect how it works. National and local political leaders have made decisions that ignored the evidence. Members of the general public have proved slow to accept the evidence. Measures adopted to help flatten the curve have been met with virulent protests, despite the evidence that they are working.”
Evidenced based facts and settled science can be used to guide our decisions and save lives. Alternatively, we can make decisions based on political expediency or those who scream the loudest, but we must be prepared to deal with the consequences.
Ignoring fact and science is not new. We have largely disregarded the impact of global climate change despite the clear evidence of its effects. We use unfounded claims to discourage the use of vaccines despite the clear evidence of their effectiveness.
Instead of basing decisions on what we want to believe or wish were true, we must consider facts. When confronted with opposing evidence, it is too easy to dismiss it as “fake news,” “a hoax,” or “biased” without thought or any type of analysis.
We know social distancing works, and abandoning it prematurely will have potentially dire consequences. One peer-reviewed health care journal reports areas in the United States that do not adhere to any social distancing policies face 35 times more cases of the novel coronavirus.
Dr. Pearl states a contagious person with this virus is likely to spread it to between 2.5 and 3 more people. This infection rate compares to the seasonal flu virus, which has a spread rate of 1.2. As long as the rate is above 1.0, the virus will not die out. The risks are still there. Flattening the curve does not eliminate the disease. We must use an approach based on fact and science or be prepared to deal with the consequences.
- What Does All This Have to do With Labor-Management Cooperation?
In most states, businesses are now reopening. We recognize the importance of this to employers, employees, and the public. We also recognize the potential dangers that accompany reopening.
In most instances, it is possible to reopen safely. It is not easy or cheap, and requires continual vigilance. While most employers are at least attempting to accomplish this, others have simply chosen to ignore guidelines and safety.
As a result, many workers have reported they do not feel it is safe for them to return to work. They have concerns about contracting the virus or bringing it home to infect their families. While for some this may be based on fear and misunderstanding, in others it represents a real concern.
This is compounded by the desire of states and governments to force workers to return to work.
Arthur Delaney reports “The U.S. Department of Labor has said that when an employer asks its workers to come back on the job, they can’t refuse and keep receiving unemployment benefits.”
Instead of employees and managers battling over the reopening process, the parties should work together to develop a process acceptable to everyone Both employers and employees can recognize the legitimacy of the needs of both. Employers need to have a sufficient number of employees to reopen their business, and employees want to know there are standards to ensure it is safe for them to return. Since each understands these common interests, there is an opportunity for both to come together and find workable solutions.
Other concerns can also be identified in this process, such as the fears employees have about the impact workplace health and safety will have on them and their families and concerns about plans drafted solely by managers. Using an interest-based approach means both parties can work together as a team to craft solutions together that are acceptable to each.
This could also be the start of a joint labor-management process that continues after the pandemic is over to allow everyone to be involved in creating a better work system.
We will wrap things up today with a quote from one of my favorite scientists, Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson. “The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.” We need to accept the principles of science and base our recovery plans on them.