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What the Devil won't tell you

Soldiers wanted: Binge watch for America & flatten the coronavirus curve

Avoiding panic is key to allowing Tucson's public health system to deal with COVID-19

Freaked yet?

Disney World is closed, the NBA season has been suspended, March Madness has been canceled and the Dow Jones dropped by its biggest single day loss in 33 years. Tom Hanks has the Coronavirus.

Mother of Murgatroyd, even Donald Trump has declared a national emergency, as he has had do acknowledge what had earlier been dismissed as a paranoid hoax.

Tom Hanks!?

That's all changed this week. Now it's time to get down to the work of getting through this viral pandemic

Public health officials are telling you to be alarmed, but not afraid. Be soldiers, not sitting ducks.

So our leaders need to get good information out — even if the answer right now is "I don't know" — and fight this state's decades-long prejudice that government isn't the answer. Right now, it is the answer. The private sector won't solve this problem.

People are still trying to figure out how bad the problem may get.

Allow me to demonstrate how experts say this crisis can be dealt with. 

Disclaimer: There's a number I've found that helps explain the freakout but the exact figure is a moving target. I seriously don't want to give bad information but the underlying wisdom provides important context to how being you and me and the Devil being good partners in this containment effort should work.

One of the aspects of the virus researchers are trying to figure out, is something called the R0 number (R-Nought). That's how many people that one person with COVID-19 are likely to infect. The World Health Organization puts the number between 1.4  and 2.2. Other researchers say it's somewhere more than 3.

The R0 figure can vary wildly because it's an average and there are too few data points to understand the coronavirus' true value with any certainty this early in its life.

The exponential math on the other hand, is illustrative.

Say you get the virus and blow it off for a while, therefore spreading it to 3 people. Then those 3 people do what you did, because they decide it's fake news or maybe they've just got stuff going on. After 3 cycles, 27 people have been infected. 

However, say you came down with the virus and not long after you started showing symptoms, you locked your front door after infecting 2 people, who do the same and again and again. Then just 8 people have gotten the virus. Repeat it with an average R0 of 1.5 and only 6 people get it. 

Again, the exact numbers aren't the point of this exercise but notice how just slowing the spread a teeny bit can have substantial effects in the future.

Changing the spread rate just a little bit has a huge impact. But if everyone blows this off, the numbers can cascade into something massive.  If you were to continue to do the math you would see that the difference between infecting one fewer person can change numbers by the tens of thousands in a very short time.

It's Red State, God-fearing, gun-toting math.

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And that's why people are saying better safe than catastrophic. So if the population are to be soldiers rather than prey, we need leaders to act accordingly. They can't fret about "winning" news cycles and attack the very systems that are going to save us if allowed to properly work.

Ramping up

The initial response has been completely messed up because our leadership at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was more interested in personal grievances than working the problem. Fine. Whatever. Remember that on Nov. 3.

Arizona, Tucson and the rest of the country are getting in gear but at this moment there appears to be some confusion, with fits and starts to the strategy.

It's like people in charge figured out there was a problem in the last day. Try getting down to the nub of the infrastructure bottleneck. How many ventilators does Pima County have? It's not easy.

Dr. Francisco Garcia told TucsonSentinel.com's Paul Ingram he doesn't know the answer. And he's Pima County's chief medical officer.

“It’s a complicated figure; we can’t just count the number of beds, because it’s not just enough to count up the number of ICU beds or ventilators, but those have to be staffed," Garcia said. "And, for hospitals, some of this information is proprietary, but we’re working on getting our partners together, and make sure we’re speaking the same language.”

“There’s a large scope of work to do, and we’ll be putting it together soon,” Garcia said. “But not by Friday.”

Perhaps we should send some sheriff's deputies over to the hold-out hospital that's crying "proprietary" information and have them go over the cars owned by that institution's brass. Show em what proprietary authority of police power means.

I'm sorry. Health execs don't get to hide that kind of information. We have a private health system so y'all can make money. But in a crisis, your capacity is the people's capacity and the people — and the people we've hired to guide us through this — have a need to know.

The problem with the whole country just now getting itself in gear is that "I don't know" is going to be the answer that we'll get for a bit. And that's the way it is — just so long as we're not getting the same answers 10 days from now.

Acting with urgency ... or not

Gov. Doug Ducey declared an emergency for the state. Good.

Trump has declared a national emergency. So they now have powers to move some money around. The how's and where's are important.

Mayor Regina Romero announced the cancellation of public meetings and asked organizers to nix private gatherings of more than 50. 

Then there are some more questionable calls.

The Fox Theatre is calling off shows after this weekend. Memo not received. 

I'm sorry, "after?" The virus going to take the weekend off? And do what? Go camping at Hutch's Pool?

We got a curve to flatten, folks, and I don't mind being redundant with that phrase.

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That's on us because we have decided to live in a for-profit health care system that sees excess capacity as waste. So we have no excess capacity in the system.

Hospitals and ventilators

In the Tucson area, we have 2,500 hospital beds. The illness has a hospitalization rate — they think — of 15 percent. If 5 percent of Tucson gets coronavirus and the hospitalization rates track with what's been shown globally, we'll need 7,500 beds. And those existing beds aren't sitting empty. 

If 5 percent are need to be put on ventilators, then we're going to need 2,500. We don't have anywhere near that, let alone the trained staff to handle them. There are only about 160,000 in the whole of the United States and maybe 9,000 in a stockpile.

Do we panic? No. We flatten the curve by slowing the infection by binge-watching "Barry." If you haven't checked out "Downton Abbey," give it a look. It's as good as they said it was. And stop rushing out to buy truckloads of toilet paper. Panic-buying only means you're rubbing elbows (and other bits) with the others in the scrum for the last package of Charmin.

Rob the virus of the chance to reach its full R0 rate. It's straight up asymmetrical warfare. We're not denying the virus ground, we're frustrating its movement.

That way, our hospital system isn't overwhelmed. 

But how do we prepare for a system being overwhelmed? It would appear the area may have 5,000 beds that just opened up on campus. Are we going to use that? Are we going to bring in the National Guard to set up tents? Are we going to commandeer hotels? 

Market forces won't deliver for us and tax cuts aren't going to fix this. We're going to have to do it ourselves.

And if you are going to go out, maybe go to a Chinese restaurant because avoiding them in particular makes no sense whatsoever.

Good government wanted

Trump's emergency declaration makes $50 billion available for states, local governments and businesses. That's important, assuming it all doesn't find its way into the maws of rich people. 

The Legislature has made $55 million available and has $1 billion in the "Rainy Day" fund. It's raining. Pouring. Hailing. Locking that money away to protect future tax cuts during a recession is exactly the wrong way to go. The state needs ventilators and a whole lot more to perhaps keep us out of a looming recession right now.

Ducey told us that he will take measures to lower the costs of coronavirus treatment. I would go with "eliminate," with special attention to the 10 percent of our state without health insurance.

Ducey also told workers to stay home if they are sick but and has noted some employers have voluntarily decided to change their sick leave policies.

I’m sorry, some? Some? I get that it’s too early to send a couple DPS agents into the nearest restaurant not offering sick leave and strongly suggesting the manager change his mind or find out what the wrong side of mass incarceration looks like. That may be a little much.

To flatten the curve, the state should remove financial barriers to staying at home.

Category X

Chuck Todd over at MSNBC (I know, I know, but hear him out) put it great and I don't want to plagiarize. There's a storm coming. We don't know if it's a gullywasher, a tropical depression, or a Cat Five blow. Odds are good it could be any of them. So we need to prepare for the Category Five.

The Tucson area right now has some experienced pros running our bureaucracies. County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry knows the contents of every broom closet in his dominion. City Manager Mike Ortega seems on top of things, too.

They are going to need resources — a lot of them. 

Republicans are going to have to choke down their near-religious devotion to the free market and aversion to helping people with other people’s money.

For Ducey and Romero and Huckelberry and Trump to succeed here, all are going to have to rely on systems of multi-layered experts in the civil service to move policy deep through the state. One might call it a "Deep State." And they are going to have to pipe that information out through the different channels of the media. Even the enemies of the American people.

Let's break it down to a crass political calculation the White House has flubbed: Show confident and commanding leadership in a crisis and voters reward you for standing tall. Screw it up and this is your Iraq War.

Except the carnage would on Speedway Boulevard and Central Avenue.

The good news is that the people are a resource and a weapon. 

We've got soul. We can be soldiers.

Blake Morlock is an award-winning columnist who worked in daily journalism for 20 years and also worked in Democratic political communications. Now he’s telling you things that the Devil won’t.


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