A lot changed since the last newsletter. And it has almost nothing to do with SES. Spring has sprung, flowers are out, and there’s a pandemic sweeping the globe. Between cancellation of about anything that requires leaving your house, a huge economic impact, and general physical isolation, the world is a very different place. A great many people have been impacted by this crisis – and many in ways unexpected. I make no claim to expertise on this issue as a medical professional, but it seems obligatory to address it as a person. This newsletter will be different than those in the past (I believe the circumstances warrant the diversion) and focus on the human aspect of this crisis and some personal opinions on “hot topics” associated with this new normal.
Next month I’ll go back to the list of suggested topics. I don’t think we’ll have seen the end of this pandemic but finding a place of normalcy in small ways will help us recover more quickly when the major threat of this pandemic has ebbed.
While trying to drum up opportunities, I found myself falling back into my (very) old interest of programming. It all started with a need to have an document management system to manage the growing number of documents I have been producing. I tried to use Excel, but it was unsatisfying, so I endeavored to create my own with Python.
After dusting off my rusty coding skills, I felt empowered to take on a greater challenge, which reminded me of a project I had imagined several years ago. At that time I was working on several projects were integrated project schedules were being put through an uncertainty and risk analysis process. Industry standard programs were used in the analysis, and even in the hands of some extremely knowledgeable operators, there were limitations where “workarounds” were needed in almost every project. I felt like software could be developed where all of these gaps could be filled or written so that future requirements easily integrated. The actual concept of schedule analysis seemed simple enough, but I could tell the devil was in the details. I did not pursue this further due to lack of time and skill.
In the present, I have both the time, and some of the skills. I am starting with a feasibility study of the concept, which I hope to complete in the next month. The result will be a fully functional version of the software, but not especially pretty or easy to use. If I see an industry need for the software’s capabilities, I will continue the work into actual software development and create a true product. This is a huge departure for me, but I think a good growth area. It combines my interest in project management, risk management, and computer analysis in a neat package. I have had a couple of people express interest in being part of this endeavor. That is hopefully a sign that what I’m working on something with broad appeal that can realize its full potential. I will post details on the project as it progresses on the SES website and Linked In page.
Before we get into this topic too much, I want to clarify my understanding of the terminology. COVID-19 is the World Health Organization (WHO) designation for the disease caused by a new form of coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). It’s the result of infection by a virus, not the virus itself, which is often misunderstood. From this point forward I will discuss both the virus and disease as separate items. In the sections below I will briefly give my speal on some of the “hot topics” associated with our new way of life and the COVID-19 pandemic.
If there’s one thing that bothers me the most, it’s how little I know. There are some things (as a layman) I would like to know that I think should be relatively easy to ascertain through lab testing and statistics, but I’ve seen little information on these topics. High on my list are:
To move forward with our lives, we must assume answers to these questions when making decisions. My assumptions are based on the extent of the controls put on our lives and the rhetoric from officials. I have concluded that the answers to the above questions must be:
None of that may be true, but it’s the best I can surmise given the absence of any other information. It’s truly amazing that the 24 hour news cycle can find something to say at all times, but these basic concepts have yet to be exhaustively covered.
The discussions that follow all use these assumptions as a basis for understanding the impact of this pandemic. It makes me nervous that these opinions are based on so little actual information, but it’s all I have.
Based on our first assumption, there’s no amount of “distancing” that will stop the spread, but it will decrease social interactions and reduce speed at which the virus is spread. This has been termed “flattening the curve”. For this reason, the official rhetoric seems to further support the conclusion that my first assumption has some validity. The unsaid corollary is that we will all likely get exposed to the virus at some point, unless we crawl under a rock forever. If we accept the premise of the second assumption, we are on a rollercoaster ride of continues re-infection until we come up with an immunization.
On a human level the result will be continual suffering for a long time, and our medical facilities will have to anticipate elevated COVID-19 patients until the immunization is distributed. To support our medical professionals, and those that need the care the most, it is our duty as fellow humans to slow the rate of infections within reasonable bounds. This will be a marathon, not a sprint – if we do it right. If we do this wrong it could be a triage situation. Even if we are successful in this aspect, the real challenge will be keeping the caregivers healthy enough that they can provide the care, which delves into availability of PPE, which I will not discuss (go to your favorite and least favorite news channels to get plenty of perspective on this topic).
There are some in the low risk population taking the stance that social distancing does not apply to them and they should keep about life. This is a tempting position (I would be considered low risk), but takes a very narrow (and self-centered) view. Just by being out and about, you provide a vehicle for increased virus spread, which will increase the rate of infections. And even for low risk people, they will get sick, and probability dictates some will need the services of our healthcare industry which imposes additional burden on an already overwhelmed system.
For those of us that generally work remotely, this has little impact on daily life, other than keeping us from the gym, going out to eat, etc. And based on the need to slow down the rate of infection, anyone that can reasonably work remotely, should. Many more are finding that remote work is possible, but not as easy as “working from home” intermittently. It requires things that most don’t have – specifically a dedicated space (with a door that closes), sufficient desk space, good peripherals, etc. In many ways this is an interesting experiment as companies and individual adjust to more virtual meetings, increased reliance on technology, and forced distribution of resources. The country as a whole was moving in this direction, but this has served as an accelerator. It probably won’t establish a new normal for when this crisis is over, but there will likely be an increased acceptance of remote working – assuming larger companies can continue to show productivity. That is good for workers in that it increases their flexibility and potential to work in new places, but could also be a contributor to job loss, which is discussed below.
A lot of people are at least temporarily out of work, and that is devastating to our economy. I’m more interested in the long-term impact. I’m going to talk specifically about three types of jobs effected by the pandemic:
So even though we might be able to quell the largest drop in the economy with some stimulus payments, it’s unlikely to change any of the trends above. That said, without the stimulus, a lot of people would go bankrupt, which is even worst for the economy and have a devastating socio-economic impact.
This one hits especially close to home. I have two children in “school”, and they are both doing “remote learning”, which is nothing more than educational games on a computer. The teacher interaction is limited to a couple of group video chats a week and some online chatting. This is not a failure of our teachers or our school systems, but we were caught grossly underprepared.
I have the luxury of time where I can spend an hour a day on a focused lesson with my children, but most do not have the time or resources. This leaves our children’s education mostly up to the parents, which will create an enormous divide across social and economic lines. Those that have the means, knowledge, and time will be able to provide better resources, resulting in children that are minimally impacted by this temporary stalling of a centralized education.
Even though it does not affect me, I realize the major implication of not providing meals to children that generally eat free or at reduced cost. Hungry children is one of those things that I find hard to understand in the richest country in the world, so from my perspective it’s possibly the most important thing schools do, especially at the younger grade levels. This problem seems easily solvable. We have a whole fleet of delivery drivers and vehicles owned and operated by the public schools sitting unused – the bus system. Keeping these people employed delivering the meals to the underserved populated solved two problems at once. I’m not sure why we’re not doing this.
From my perspective, we need to be rational. Slow the spread, mitigate the economic impact, and be better prepared for the future. At best, it’s teaching us all to do more with less: less time, less money, less social interaction, fewer services, etc. At worst it will cause a lot of job losses, some of them permanent, and a decreased reliance on the service industry that is the basis for our economy. It may be the wake-up call we all needed that helps us re-prioritize our values and come out stronger as a country. Or it could just be used as a partisan flail in many election cycles to come. I’m going to try to stay optimistic on which is more likely to occur, but that sort of optimism is not well founded on recent history.
I’m not sure a cute quip is appropriate for this subject, so I will forgo the tradition in this edition. I want to emphasize that this is a crisis affecting all humans, but we have endured much worst and will easily survive as a species and civilization. Many will be permanently harmed, but most will recover. I don’t want to say the, “we’re all in this together” line since every time I hear someone say it, I question the motivation of their following actions. You should feel the truth of this statement like “gravity is down”. I don’t hear anyone saying, “we can’t breathe water” to justify keeping life preservers on a boat.