Get Ready America.

Mar 16, 2020 by

Tom Watkins brings a unique perspective to the Covid-19 or coronavirus crisis. He has an eclectic career including serving as the Michigan State Superintendent of Public Education, State Mental Health Director, holding academic and administrative leadership roles at Wayne State University, serving as the President and CEO of the Economic Council of Palm Beach County, Florida and nearly 4 decades of working, traveling and writing about the importance of building cultural, educational and economic ties between our two countries. Below he opines in the coronavirus and it’s impact on us all.

Wake Up America 

A crisis is a terrible thing to waste. 

Get Ready America. We are in the process of incrementally shutting down the country — similar to like what  you  witnessed in China, then Italy.  The Slow Roll will be speeding up beginning today and will escalate as week rolls on.

This should not be a city by city, country by county, state by state decision — the coronavirus virus knows no political boundary. We need a nation wide quarantine- now!

Seventeen years ago, again in China, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars) swept over China and went on to infect more than 8,000 people and kill almost 800. A lack of transparency and down right lies spread the virus to 28 countries. 

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China was criticised by the UN’s global health body for concealing the scale of the outbreak. Sars posed a huge challenge to the Chinese leadership both as a public health crisis and a political one.  Truth, transparency and allowing public health officials make medical and public health choices, not purely political

ones were a lesson China’s should have learned from the Sars fiasco. Another should have been closing the wet or  wildlife market which are poorly managed, insanitary” and “a dangerous source of possible new infections”.

The Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission pronounced, “Anyone who deliberately delays and hides the reporting of [virus] cases out of his or her own self-interest will be nailed on the pillar of shame for eternity.”

There has been some window dressing to 

show China’s leaders are being more open and transparent. President Xi Jinping has mouthed the words of transparency— but the reality on the ground is anything but open and transparent.

Fast forward nearly two decades and China is in eye of the storm with the coronavirus (COVID-19)causing a health and economic pandemic across the globe. The disease has spread throughout China and to 78 other countries and territories, including the United States As of February 23, 2020, there were 76,936 reported cases in mainland China and 1,875 cases in locations outside mainland China with nearly 3,000 dead. 

Global economic markets are tumbling with the the US Stock Market, the Dow having its largest drop in a single day. 

Business, markets and governments hate uncertainty and this virus, originating in Wuhan China has washed over the globe bringing destruction and a questionable future. Fear and uncertainty are fueling anxiety and panic around the world.  

The the US Stock Market ended it worst week since the economic meltdown of 2008 and there is a drum beat of gloom flashing economic turmoil ahead with near panic infused fear that it could get much worse before it gets better. 

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All our global as well as domestic efforts are now focused on what is a refrain from the chattering class on cable news pontificating  saying, “we are hoping for the best as we prepare for the worst.”

Owning Mistakes 

Clearly there were mistakes made in China where local leaders initially down played the problem as well as other errors at home and abroad that have shaped the crisis that is unfolding now. Wuhan’s mayor said 5 million people left the city before travel restrictions were imposed ahead of the Lunar New Year.

In the future there will be scientists, health officials and poli-scientists and science fiction writers penning books and dissertations to cash in on what went wrong. 

The US and other nations have made some serious mistakes in preparing for a potential pandemic and in strategic and tactical decisions they have made. As the coronavirus leaped from Wuhan, China across globe, the Business Insider Magazine reports President Trump’s administration has hampered the United States’ response through blunders and cuts to public health.

These mistakes are costly. The statistics on the coronavirus are changing rapidly as of this writing  web ha w 4,180 reported cases, 73 deaths and 73 people recovered. We expect these stats to change rapidly as we begin the long delayed testing. We can expect the death toll to climb exponentially.

I will leave it it history to sort out how we arrived at this intersection of history. We can not continue to make the same

blunders when the health and economic well being of all humanity is at stake.

As a former state superintendent of public education in Michigan I have begun to reflect on the lessons all of us, as global citizens should learn from the coronavirus crisis and  the global catastrophe unfolding.

When The Student Is Ready- The Teacher Will Appear

The Coronavirus has bought some truths home: 

  • Science matters. Hope and prays while welcome are not going to solve this problem.
  • Facts matter. There is a time and place for political spin- this is not one of them.
  • Transparency matters. We need our government and health leaders to keep us informed, good, bad and ugly.
  • Truthfulness matters. In a era where the Groucho Marx line, “Who ya gonna believe, me or your lying eyes” has become a standard punchline, we must demand the truth.
  • Preparedness matters. Budget cuts and hiring freezes in federal departments are often hidden from the public view— until they aren’t. There are many key positions in critical public health and homeland security roles that are vacant- and it shows  
  • Trust matters. When at least half of American citizens don’t trust the POTUS in good times, Houston, we have a crisis in tough times. 
  • Leadership matters. At a time when we should be rallying around the flag to protect our nation from this foreign invasion we are splintered and divided. As Abe Lincoln reminded us at a perilous time in our history, a house divided against itself will not stand. 
  • Health matters. My grandma would always tell me, “Without your health, you have nothing.” I now understand grandma.  
  • What happens in China does not stay in China. Going forward, all global issues will intersect at the corner of Beijing and Washington, D.C. How are respective leaders manage and lead these issues will impact the people of China, America and all of humanity as we are witnessing today.
  • Tribalism and nationalism are on a rise- but we need to grasp, we are all in this together as we continue to be reminded, we live in an interconnected world where walls  won’t prevent health oeconomic pandemic. We can’t drill holes in the other side of the boat we are sharing and not expect it to sink us all
  • In an interconnected world, we need to build bridges – not erect walls or dig moats to survive and thrive

Global problems. Problems like the coronavirus, climate change, water scarcity, ignorance, poverty, nuclear proliferation require a collective unified, coordinated collaborative response.

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We can avert catastrophes we know are coming our way, if we have the courage to upset the status quo. We cannot survive in the 21st century without casting off the anchors of the past that are holding us in frozen in place. 

We owe the media a giant thank you. The free press, far from the “enemy of the people”, or “fake news” you are a vital part of our democracy and a beacon of truth, facts and transparency every day. You shine like a spotlight during a crisis. Keeping truth, facts and science in the forefront of your reporting is a godsend. For your service, you are collectively deserving of the Presisential medal of freedom. 

We need leaders willing to lead for their nation, and all of humanity.

China still has 92 percent of the world’s cases of the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19, and all but 118 of the nearly 3,000 deaths from the virus have occurred within its borders. But recent events have shown that COVID-19 rapidly morphed from being a primarily Chinese worry to a global story. As we have seen in other spheres, what happens in China does not stay in China.

As the old nursery rhyme, Dry Bones ( reminds us, the foot bone is connected to the ankle bone  ….events that are playing out today on the global stage are all interconnected. Trump’s  tariff trade war with China weakened the global economy and— now the coronaviruses is knocking it for a loop.

Survival is a great motivator. We need to join together to fight this “war without bombs”.

All of us need to do our part. Wash your hands, act on social distancing while you seek ways to support and help your family and neighbors. 

A crisis is a terrible thing to waste. Will we learn our lessons?

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