This is the last Morning Jolt until May 26; enjoy your Memorial Day weekend.
Our response and reopening plans are designed for robots
Jason Pargin is the former editor of Cracked.com. He usually writes comedy, but also often offers sharp insights into human nature, which is one of the goals of comedy. Pargin asked for the correct term for the misconception that a policy, plan, or idea will work as long as humans behave like perfectly programmed robots, rather than the myriad, unpredictable, flawed creatures of flesh and blood we are. (A strong contender for the right term, but perhaps not quite on the nose, is “engineer’s fallacy,“The idea that the logical solution is the best solution, regardless of how that solution works in the real world.)
Pargin commented, “Whatever it is called, I feel that some of us strayed into it during the pandemic – assuming that people would be without real contact with other people for months. Assuming they work on a cold, machine-like risk assessment instead of emotion / momentum. ”
The “It’s too risky to open again!” the crowd must agree that we are finishing week ten of the restrictive measures, and the public mood and willingness to obey those measures will now be really different from week one or two. At the moment of writing, the highest Rt factor in the country at this time is North Dakota with 1.02.
South Korean high school students returned to class earlier this week. But almost every measure, South Korea’s response to the coronavirus tops the list. Compared to Americans, South Koreans have much more respect for authority, much more social trust, and much more willingness to sacrifice for the good of their community. That country’s pre-existing habits of wearing masks, respecting quarantine and avoiding stupid risks are pretty much the idealistic fantasy of a health policy expert.
Students from 66 schools in Incheon, just west of Seoul, had to leave after two students from one of the schools tested positive for the virus on Wednesday. The two students did not take classes on Wednesday, but authorities have decided to temporarily close all schools in their area, according to the Incheon Metropolitan City Office of Education.
The two students had been in a karaoke room visited by another student who tested positive for the virus after taking private lessons from a person attending an Itaewon club, according to Incheon city officials.
Teenagers will sneak into the karaoke clubs – or somewhere to gather, especially when protective measures last until their third month. Ironically, South Korea has not attempted full-spectrum locking like some states here; she quickly compile an extensive test-and-trace program, with significant mobile-based tracking and monitoring.
Here in my neck of the forest, a few kids played in the tunnels of the Authenticity Woods storm drain system. I might not have believed the stories of neighbors if I hadn’t seen it myself; on one of my walks recently, a few kids came out of a manhole like ninja turtles. I wouldn’t want to encourage kids to do that, but I can’t completely begrudge their hunger for mischief and breaking some rules. Since mid-March, their lives have been overtaken by once unthinkable rules.
You can keep children out of school and away from all organized activities to protect them and their loved ones from a possible infection with the coronavirus. But some South Korean children will end up in the karaoke bars, and some American children will wander through the sewers. There is no “everyone avoids all risky behaviors” option, so we should look for the “least number of people who take the least consistent risk” option.
I can’t begrudge those kids in my area because personal school classes have been canceled since mid-March along with all after-school activities, Little League, flag football, performing arts, church groups, you name it. Playgrounds are gated, the gym is closed, everyone should be social distance from grandma and grandpa, restaurants and ice cream parlors only do takeaway. . . you are left with the public parks. Moreover, the weather was bad for most of this spring. A few families try to distance themselves socially from performance data. Just about all summer camps and programs have been officially canceled this week, so more of the same will follow in the coming months. (Apparently, outdoor summer camps are too dangerous, but the New York City metro system is still running. I suspect fear of lawsuits affects our decisions as much as fear of the virus.)
In mid-March, no one could deny that we were facing a seriously disruptive threat. Now we’re going to Memorial Day weekend, and the message to the kids of the nation is, “Sorry kids, we may have had almost three months, but our leaders can’t think of a solution that will take us back to something that looks like a normal human interaction “Forget everything we said about too much screen time and how Fortnite turns your brain into oatmeal.”
Few responses are less helpful than the thoughtless cry, “Children are being crossed these days! Summer 2020 will be like summer when we were kids! They will be unattended! “This summer will be nothing like when we were kids, assuming your summers were Weird stuff-ish without the monsters. When you were little, no one expected you to stay six meters away from other people! You can get together with your friends without panicking their parents. When you were a kid, your world had many places where people gathered in large groups without risk: cinemas, arcades, carnival, amusement parks, water parks, public pools, baseball games, museums, zoos, aquariums. Most of those places will be closed or severely curtailed this summer. When you were a child, the local adult who seemed determined to make sure no one had fun was a stranger; today we have no shortage of “Karens”.
It is not all gone. We can still do backyard barbecues. We still have popsicles on a hot day. If you live near a beach or more, most will reopen or reopen soon. Perhaps the mini golf courses will reopen when using meters? We may be able to save this summer, but that doesn’t mean recounting this worldwide catastrophe in our pre-existing narrative of how these damn kids are spoiled by their helicopter parents today.
The inability of our state, local, educational and social leaders to put together a good solution for our children for the summer raises real doubts about the ability to come up with a good solution for our children before the fall. Hopefully your child will do well in distance learning; many of them are not. It is especially disastrous for children with special needs. We laugh at the comic videos of parents struggling with the madness of distance learning, because they are true. Teaching is a full-time job and many parents are expected to take up that job while trying to do their other full-time job from home. About at Slate, they ask honestly which is the point of distance learning for preschool children.
ADDENDUM: “If Americans had known we had thousands of infections on February 29, people would have accepted a lockdown on March 1!” William Saletan states. Yes, and if pigs had wings, they would fly. That counterfactual is quite a challenge to the question I was trying to answer, whether it was realistic to expect Americans to end up in a closed state on March 1. People would not change their behavior until they saw danger, and the danger was not easily perceived. We can say it should have been – I would say it should have been; you probably read what I wrote then, but it was not.
That didn’t help for most of January and February, a lot of to vote in our national media had confident declared Which the common flu was more dangerous than the corona virus. A Wired headline helpfully headed us, “Travel bans and quarantines do not stop Coronavirus.“
You will find that quite a few responses to that piece reacted angrily as if it were an attack on Trump. He is not really the focus of the piece; the focus is that the Columbia study wishes we had taken an action that the public was unlikely to support at the time, based on what was known. Then there were the angry reactions that thought the play was Trump’s defense. I suspect they have stopped reading before the paragraph that read, “President Trump’s management of this crisis was pretty bad.” A lot of people in the comment sections were upset that the locks don’t work. Again, this is a different question than whether Americans would have accepted those orders on March 1.
One of the most frustrating aspects of our public discussion right now – especially on social media – is that whatever part of the pandemic is being discussed, people want to send it back to their favorite aspect of it: “Yes, but Trump is bad!” “Yes, but Bill de Blasio is bad!” “Yes, but China is bad!” “Yes, but Fox News said the virus wouldn’t be that bad!” “Yes, but the WTO said it was not contagious!” “Yes, but Amazon makes a lot of money!” “Yes, but masks don’t work unless used correctly!”