Legislative Update – March 16 – Coronavirus edition
Well, the world feels like off its axis right now, doesn’t it? This Novel Coronavirus is creating a great deal of disruption – forcing the cancelation of many things we enjoy in our community. We are being warned to avoid big gatherings, and to deploy “social distancing” to minimize the virus’ spread. Most people in Topeka have abandoned the traditional handshake and exchanged it with the “elbow bump.”
The legislative session, which already had the feel of trying to run in wooden clogs, has stalled even more under the weight of the Coronavirus pandemic.
On Friday, the House attempted to pass out a bare bones budget – enough to ensure Gov. Kelly could maintain state operations. The idea from House leadership was that we could minimize health risks for legislators, staff, and others who have business in the Capitol. The Senate, however, had already left for the day, and we were unable to move forward. It appears that we’ll try again this week, and then adjourn until later in the year with the hope that the worst of this has passed. Otherwise, there’s really not too much worth reporting from the statehouse.
In Kansas, we’ve been relatively lucky so far. There are so far eight confirmed cases, with one death. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment is providing continuous updates on the virus’ spread in Kansas – as well as offering guidelines for all of us in these uncharted waters. I want to take a moment to say how thankful I am that we have someone like Dr. Lee Norman at the helm of public health. His experience and knowledge is ideal for this situation.
I’ve seen a lot of questionable information about what’s going on with the Coronavirus. It’s important that we don’t contribute to the spread of bad information, junk science, conspiracy theories, or anything that isn’t evidence-based. It feels out of sorts to see events cancelled, and to be told that we shouldn’t gather in large groups. Some people think that’s a bit too far – but it’s done to ensure our healthcare infrastructure can handle the number of patients who get seriously ill from the virus. If our system is overwhelmed, more people who need care can’t get it – and as a result the fatality rate increases. In Italy, health officials had to create a heartbreaking criteria to decide who would be first in line for care. Nothing illustrated the value of restricting public interaction more than this graphic from the 1918 Spanish Flu.
There are also a few other sites that I check regularly for information. One is the World Health Organization’s map. I’ve checked it consistently for the past couple of weeks. Another I’ve just started following seems to gather the information from a variety of public sources, and is a little more real-time than the WHO site.
It’s an incredibly uncomfortable time. We’re being told where we should and shouldn’t go and what we should and shouldn’t do. Our favorite activities are being cancelled, and all of this is due to an unseen threat that seems a little hard to believe could really be this bad. And most of us haven’t lived through anything like this before. But I’ll err on the side of caution, and trust the people who have spent their lives studying the spread of disease and ways to contain it.
I sometimes let my mind drift to what might be the long-term effects of this – largely the positive. If, when this is over, we come to acknowledge that we share a responsibility to care for and consider one another, that won’t be all bad. If we come to see ourselves as a larger community that has a duty to protect each other – instead of attacking one another for no real reason at all – that won’t be so bad either. Maybe it will help us reconsider some of the embedded structures of our economy – which is getting hit tremendously hard right now – that could help us in the future. If we see the gaps in our current healthcare delivery and take lessons learned from this pandemic to close those gaps, we’ll be all the better for it.
In the meantime, take care of yourselves and your loved ones. Check on your family, friends, and neighbors. Try not to get cabin fever.
And, please, only buy a reasonable amount of toilet paper.