Best laid plans…Covid19

Its Spring! Can we grow more toilet paper?

Well, we all had plans for spring 2020 and beyond. But, unlike all the years before in all our collective life-experience, this year the long-anticipated global pandemic decided to sideline life for an indeterminate period of time.

How are we handling our new found permanent weekends? Well, it’s a jumble of adaptation, anxiety, and reengaging on the home-front, which doubles as the work-front and triples as the school-front. But through all these rapid changes to work, family, school and community, lets keep our perspective on what’s ‘good’ in this not-so-good pandemic.

First, many of us suffer from life’s hectic pace, commuting and working to balance all the disparate parts of work, community, friend and family life. Well for right now, all these parts are being slowed, melded and simplified. We have no choice and for a while perhaps, that is an unexpected blessing.

We may not know where the next shipment of toilet paper or acetaminophen is coming from, but we are all in this together. We are not the first generation to suffer from want. But we are perhaps the first generation so used to ubiquitous stuff, that a little want might do us good. With the aid of technology, even those who live at a distance can play a game of Cards Against Humanity or host a virtual cocktail hour to catch up with friends and family. I finally took my sister-in-laws yoga class in Massachusetts, via Zoom! We’re being forced to engage in new forms of work and play. We’re learning what it means to value the people who stock our shelves and work in support services. We’re learning that ‘essential workers’ are the very people we pay the least and that their pay means we are often supplementing with government aid – aka corporate welfare.

Sure, we’re increasing our Zoom meetings but in general, we are being forced to re-evaluate how we spend our days, weeks and months of Stay at Home time; and what we choose as ‘priority’ when we have free hours to spend may very well play itself out in increased productivity, or in a decision to tackle a long-planned creative or home based project.

In a way, this new found time at home is a luxury we should savor, not view as an inconvenience. It’s a really nice change that many of us are modifying our habits to get more out of our forced work-stay-cation. There’s the added benefit that we are approaching Spring weather – when it will be easier to be outside – though physical distancing will have to continue for all but those with whom you already live. We’re reconnecting more because our ability to socialize in person is so severely curbed.

Now, on to the issue of the state and federal response to this foreseeable health event. New Hampshire did an OK job of working to take the executive actions needed to support a tough economic transition. Hollis’ own Taylor Caswell, Commissioner of The NH Department of Business and Economic Affairs has done yeoman’s work on behalf of the state to pull together resources and financing to support this unplanned economic crisis. The Federal Government also pulled together 3 large economic stimulus packages to help displaced workers, small and large businesses and state budgets weather the storm of unplanned expenses.

In the implementation of the Federal piece, it appears there are some snags and unclear directives, but I would not have expected anything different from the collection of inexperienced agency heads in charge of the national efforts. There is no substitute for knowledge and experience when crises hit. We have clear example of why nepotism laws exist (and should be enforced) when President’s son in law, a man with no experience in anything but real estate, has control of the government’s response on medical assistance to the states. His latest blunder was telling the country that the federal stock piles of ventilators are ‘ours’ and the states need to use their own stock piles. Umm, that response is not ‘good enough for government work’. I have been underwhelmed with the federal response which is uneven and inspiring of a Lord of the Flies type competition among states. This lack of strategic thinking at the top is going to prolong the misery of this health crisis. It brings home the importance of hiring qualified people to represent us.

We are in the first week of April, and we’re hearing doctors, nurses and other front-line workers are in need of better protective clothing to keep them safe from this virus. Their pleas are falling on deaf ears and this is demoralizing to their ranks, even as they suit up for daily battle as the cases of Covid19 patients rise. They are the first line of defense; make no mistake, they are not a fungible resource. We cannot replace a doctor or nurse with an unskilled volunteer. Once our supply of qualified healthcare professionals is significantly depleted, we will be losing more patients than necessary to a lack of quality care. These specialized personnel are critical to our ability to beat back and repair the casualties in this pandemic. So if we are not arming them with basic protection, we are not addressing our most critical success factor for helping the most Granite Staters.

As a project manager, I see overwhelmed hospital staff and insufficient capacity as the critical factors in the state’s response. These should be a higher priority than the economy, because the faster we beat back the virus and its effects on our population, the faster the economy will be able to recover by cleared people and people with antibodies being able to return to work. Those are the steps.

New Hampshire has constructed 4 temporary hospital sites to increase capacity by 1600 beds; but if we don’t protect the people working on the front lines, the rest of the plan doesn’t work. So while I believe a lot of good work has been done, I’m disappointed that NH didn’t opt for aggressive testing (the protocols for who can get a test are still high hurdles to meet) and contact tracing with isolation plans for those who test positive. Without this up front work, the ability to mitigate spread in other countries has not been successful. It is those higher rates of infection that have overrun hospitals, morgues and funeral parlor. So, I, along with everyone else, am hoping we are an exception to the rules of this virus’ course in other places where they missed the boat on containment and then failed to use aggressive testing to mitigate widespread outbreaks. Regardless of moves we did or didn’t take, this is going to be a difficult time for our state and the nation, just as it is for many places around the world. It’s hard to learn that having people who do not believe in science or understand how to use data is an extremely costly lesson in an actual crisis. We are not responding to this national health crisis like a first world nation.

I offered my services to the NH Department of Health and Human Services because I figured they had the most work in need of doing. That was a month ago, I still haven’t received a call back. Left a few messages, one on behalf of a constituent as well; nobody seems to be returning calls. I had the same experience volunteering to be an extra pair of hands for the Governor’s office.

So I’ve been spending my time working online with the Public Utilities Commission on the docket for a proposed statewide, multi-use, online energy platform that will enable our ability to see and manage new forms of clean energy coming online. I’m working with the Democratic leadership of the House and my committee, Science, Technology and Energy, to advance our priorities for the session in the hopes the Governor will finally get on board with businesses and municipalities to raise the net metering cap, make energy efficiency investments work at scale and make storage policy, which shaves peak, reduces load and ultimately helps lower costs for everybody, a reality. The work has slowed, but it hasn’t stopped.

As we weather this storm together let me just say that as much as I try to pass on important information and resources to my constituents via facebook and twitter, I am always happy to hear from people who have a question or need some help with a particular issue. This was true for a small training business in Milford who needed to know how to move forward when their in-person business dried up overnight. Or for the Hollis medical manufacturing company that reached out to find out how they could get ‘essential business’ status so they could keep making ventilator parts that are in demand for machines across the country. It was my pleasure to run these issues down and get them what they needed.

Here is New Hampshire’s best repository for centralized information http://www.nh.gov/covid19

Please remember, this too shall pass and when we get to the other side, let’s hope we’ve taken a hard look at the importance of security in the lives of our citizenry. A living wage has been placed front and center by this pandemic – where gig economy workers are hanging by a thread and the inadequacy of a minimum wage, that is no where near a living wage, has been laid bare. The Democratic legislature tried to pass several minimum wage bills to address this issue in NH, but each one met with the Governor’s veto. Covid19 has brought home the fact that when so many people are unable to make ends meet or survive the loss of a single paycheck, we are weakened as a country.

Another Democratic priority for this biennium (2019-2020) was Family Medical Leave. This provides another necessary benefit for a more secure workforce. It was misrepresented by partisan politics as a Democratic play for an income tax, but in actuality, anything we choose to pay for is going to come from our income, no? Paid Medical Leave provides essential coverage for workers and their families – since everyone gets sick from time to time. The need for paid leave, in the face of an infectious disease outbreak, brings us an unfortunate reminder that policies really do make or break us as a society. It matters what we choose to support and what policy priorities actually contribute to the well-being of our citizens.

Let’s have the discussion about healthcare for all, since what we have is so clearly broken and is being further broken by the current administration. While the pandemic is raging across the country, the Trump Administation is in court trying to make sure the Affordable Care Act is broken for good; this from the candidate who promised better cheaper care and from the party who promised Repeal and Replace – 10 years ago. There is still no Republican plan to fix healthcare; only a plan to break it. But that policy ideology has a result for those of us who live in the real world: Example: Today, I saw a post from a woman whose dad, an ER doctor, was just told he’ll be receiving a pay cut because non-covid19 services are down and the hospital is not making enough profit. In the middle of a pandemic we’re cutting a doctor’s pay, even though a large stimulus that included money for state medical expenses and hospitals was passed. How can we expect heroics of people who are not valued? This is what happens when a society becomes profit-driven. Profit is not the only matter of value. We only get to have that conversation, if Democrats stay in control of government.

Democracy means the people have a say – not just rich people. It doesn’t mean there is no money in the richest country on earth to supply basic services to people. America is not every man for himself not matter how much the ideologues try to feed that hype. America is e pluribus unum, from many, one.