Tuesday, February 14, 2006

"It's no news" is bad news

It's not news any longer that there is bird flu all over the place: asia, southeast asia, Russia, Turkey, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Croatia, Slovenia, Greece, Italy, Nigeria -- where did I miss? Nevermind. Mainly in birds, of course, but enough humans to give us pause. This virus is still experimenting and looking for new hosts to use for its only purpose in life -- make copies of itself. Maybe it will find humans or cats or dogs or all of the above good factories. Maybe not. But pretty much we are now at the mercy of the virus's biology as to what it will do. There is little at the moment we can do to affect that.

This is not true for managing the consequences of what it might or will do, however. There we still have a chance to affect the course of events. We don't have to fatalistically submit to whatever the virus has in store. Since on any given day about half our readers are first time visitors, we'll repeat here what we have been saying for the last year or more. We can get ready for this and we can do it despite the yawning public health and governmental leadership void. In a pandemic every community will have to depend on its own resources anyway, as the need will be so huge that no outside source will be able to satisfy it.

Our interests here and at The Flu Wiki are what can be done as a community, not as individuals. There is no shortage of sites with individually-oriented survivalist strategies and we wouldn't discourage anyone who felt the need to do whatever they feel is necessary for themselves and their families. But if we are going to get through this with minimum pain we will, above all, need to help each other. The more prepared we are as communities the more likely we will see neighbor helping neighbor instead of neighbor fleeing neighbor. In essence this is a task at community mobilization and the closer a pandemic seems, the easier it will be to mobilize the community. So we should be thinking about it and doing it, even if in the past it was hard to get attention. Perceptions change and with them, willingness to take action.

We are not just talking about public health measures. In a way, they will more likely take care of themselves because that seems to be the only thing state and local governments are thinking about. The big issues will be those loosely called social services: how to care for the many people who will need care despite no money, family or social support; how to ration scarce resources of all kinds; how to cope with a prolonged 30% to 40% absenteeism that can cripple essential services like food supply, pharmacies, water, power; how to provide for the dead and comfort their survivors. All of these things can be done by schools, businesses and agencies thinking ahead and putting in place some rudimentary planning. Who are the key people in your business and what would you do if they were out sick? What if power was off for a week or ten days? When do you close your school and what do you do about childcare if school is closed? These are hard questions but it won't do any good waiting for someone else to give you the answer. No one knows what to do. But you can start thinking about it. There is an impressive amount of raw brain power in our communities and we have no doubt some innovative solutions will be found -- sooner or later.

Sooner is better.