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Finding Normal (part 1)

A look at how we find a return to normal in a COVID-19 world

BACKGROUND

This is first part of the third installment in a series of pieces related to COVID-19. Click here for the first installment, "WE not ME." Click here for the second installment, "What's Next?"

INTRODUCTION

By now we've probably well established that I'm a big nerd, which doesn't usually mean much on most days. However, when it comes to matters of S.T.E.M. "nerds gonna nerd" (that's the nerd version of playas gonna play).

I have degrees in Economics, Public Health, and Data Science, which is simply to say that as you read this please keep in mind the perspective from which I'm writing. If you disagree with me, feel free to reach out and let me know! Just be ready to backup your position with facts, data, and citations.

(Yes this sounds totally annoying and arrogant - please know it's not intended to come out that way).

THE QUESTION

For the better part of the past month or so, the question on everyone's mind seems to be some version of the following, "will we ever get back to normal?"

My answer is YES. So let's all take a deep breath, give ourselves a minute to be hopeful, and look forward to when that day comes. Things will get better, but we need to have patience till they do. The more impatient we are, the longer we will have to wait till we return to normal.

Now, I know many of you already have a million more questions, and probably some complaints with the first few sentences I've written so far.

For starters there are assuredly a lot of questions about what "normal" means, whether it was ever a good thing to begin with, and nuanced questions about the socioeconomic inequity contained within our old definition of normal. Those discussions, though worthwhile, would take up endless amount of time and space and are probably better left for another day.

Then there are likely those of you who know enough of this heinous virus to doubt whether we can ever get back to the old normal. You all are likely shaking your head and thinking to yourself that we will need to move to a new normal that includes social distancing, obsessive hand washing, masks, etc. for years to come.

I completely understand where you're coming from. This was my gut reaction as well, and it well may be what's in our cards for the next year or two.

So the question is - why? Why do I think we'll be able to get back to a pre-COVID sense of normal someday? Because history tells me so. Over the past several centuries, mankind has endured various plagues, poxes, and public health pandemics. Though some of those diseases wreaked global havoc for years, we always found a way onward and upward.

Even the Spanish Flu gave way (eventually) to the roaring 20's.

To me the significant questions should be "when?" and "how?" do we find our way back to normal?

I will attempt to tackle those questions over the next few installments of this piece.

THE PLAYBOOK

In 2008, the global financial system was nearly brought to its knees as a result of the collapse of the synthetic subprime mortgage back securities market. In 2009, I was part of a Big Five Consulting team tasked to create content around a "Recession Playbook" for CFOs to help them navigate their organizations through the aftermath of the crisis.

Over the past few weeks I've been thinking a lot about that playbook and have wondered what a COVID public policy playbook would look like today.

What's our silver linings playbook?

The road to normal begins with a plan that contains the following broad steps:

Step 1: Calm the anxiety

Step 2: Fortify your defenses

Step 3: Attack

Sounds reasonable enough, right? Also sounds fairly broad and vague, no? What does this look like exactly in specific terms? Well, to better understand that, it helps if you're a fan of the underdog sports film genre. So if you've seen the Mighty Ducks (or Hoosiers, Wildcats, the Replacements, Major League, etc.) you know what I'm talking about.

DUCKS FLY TOGETHER

If you've ever seen one of these sports underdogs films you know the formula well. You start with a rag tag bunch of rejects from the wrong side of the tracks and you turn them into champions. How do you do this?

First you get a coach that can calm the chaos and anxiety. Whether that be Gordon Bombay in the Ducks franchise or Gene Hackman's characters in Hoosiers and the Replacements, the turnaround starts at the top.

Second you fortify the defenses. Maybe that means you teach Goldberg how not to be afraid of the puck as goalie in the Mighty Ducks, or maybe that means Jon Favreau is your new linebacker in the Replacements, but you have to stop the bleeding somehow on defense before you can go on the offensive.

Third you attack by adding to your firepower. In the movies this means you bring in a ringer or two. In the Ducks that ringer came in the form of Adam Banks. In the Replacements that ringer was Keanu Reeves' Shane Falco.

Once the pieces are in place, you're ready to attack. That attack requires a strategy to best utilize your assets. Maybe that means you implement the Flying V. Maybe that means you implement the picket fence as in Hoosiers. Maybe it means you let "Sunshine" throw all over the field and then switch back to the veer in the final play of the championship game as in Remember the Titans.

Whatever the case....when the time comes....you have to know your opponent, know yourself, and then design a strategy to attack. Winning requires that you have executed step 1-3 well.

Over the course of the next few installments of this piece, I'll breakdown in detail what these "Mighty Ducks" steps look like in the context of a COVID policy playbook.

If we can execute these steps with precision and patience, we can implement a policy that will have us singing "we are the champions" in the end.

But, and here's the key, we have to remember that when things get tough..."Ducks Fly Together."

We are all in this together. Our individual and collective health depends not only on our willingness to patiently stick to the plan, but on everyone's willingness to do so. When it comes to public health we are only as strong as our weakest link.

CONTEXT AND NUMBERS

While I'll delve into the details of how we get back to normal in future installments of this piece, what I'd like to focus on right now is the current scientific context of COVID-19, because that context will inform our assumptions, which in turn will be the basis for our plan forward.

There appears to be a high level of confusion and misinformation that is circulating daily about where we currently stand in our fight against COVID-19 and I think it is worth spending our time focusing on the factual science of where we are today.