COVID-19 Q/A: Flattening the Curve to Avoid a ‘Great Depression II’
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By Glynn Cosker
Managing Editor, In Homeland Security
One of American Military University’s (AMU) faculty members knows all too well about emergencies and disasters.
In a career spanning 35-plus years in emergency and disaster management, Dr. Chris Reynolds – Dean and Vice President, Academic Outreach and Program Development at AMU – was on the ground during 2005’s Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts, the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, the 2010 Haitian earthquake disaster, and many other natural and man-made disasters.
Dr. Reynolds also served as a division fire chief and emergency manager for three decades with a large fire and rescue organization – and is also a retired Lieutenant Colonel, serving in the United States Air Force as an emergency preparedness officer with the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD) and United States Northern Command (NORTHCOM).
I recently spoke with Dr. Reynolds about the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
In Homeland Security: We are seeing daily press conferences focusing on the coronavirus outbreak. What is your take on them, and how is the general public reacting?
Dr: Reynolds: I think they’re getting a point out, but we have to remember which lens the public is looking through at the information because everything today is divisive. It doesn’t matter whether you’re on the left or on the right. Everything is divisive – and I hate saying that but it’s a fact that either you like Trump or you don’t like Trump, and that’s the lens that everything’s being looked through – and what’s happening is it’s bifurcating the message. And, it’s truly sad because it’s putting people at risk.
For example, take a look at the White House Coronavirus Task Force news conferences where you’ll see Dr. Fauci up there giving advice or talking about something that’s important. But the people that can’t stand the president are likely to turn it off and not even listen to Dr. Fauci. Then there are some outlets saying the whole situation is overblown; there are other outlets saying that the president isn’t doing enough.
So, I think we have a confused population right now. We have people who are generally confused about what is the right thing to do. Of course, they know the basic stuff like keeping your hands clean, social distancing and keeping six feet away – they know all those things – [but] when the information is put through the political lens, people get anxious and confused. There should be a single voice.
There comes a time when you’ve got to lay down your politics and do what’s right for humanity by making sure this thing is stopped.
And the only way to stop it is to stop travel, maintain social distancing, and watch out where you touch – it’s the only way to do it because we are trying to flatten the curve so we don’t get a huge spike in cases.
If we don’t do that, then bigger and more stringent tactics are deployed. We’ve already got some state National Guards activated, but we might see President Trump needing to activate the Reserves – meaning he could utilize Title 10. The Reserves and others would then start building support hospitals, Army combat support hospitals. There’s lots of things they can do to handle the overflow patients.
However, they don’t want to get to that point. That’s the point where people truly will die because they won’t be able to be triaged in time – just like in Italy right now where these doctors have to make these horrible decisions of whom to treat.
In Homeland Security: We currently live in a post 9/11 world. Our lives changed on September 11, 2001. The oldest Generation Z members back then were barely five years old, but they – along with the rest of us – will be living in a Post-COVID-19 World. Is this pandemic as big as 9/11?
Dr. Reynolds: Oh, absolutely. This is Generation Z’s 9/11 without a doubt. However, the difference now is that it’s not confined just to the continental United States – this is worldwide and it crosses all ideologies, all races, and all social classes. That’s why I think it’s foreign and it’s scary to people. And this is why this coronavirus is so different.
As an instructor, I teach that all emergency management disasters are local; that the local response effort is the foundation for anything when it comes to response, mitigation, planning and recovery. It’s not FEMA’s job, and it’s not the federal government’s job, to come into local areas and accomplish a mission. Their job is logistics; their job is to send materials, write checks and assist. It’s the local responders who are out in the field doing the work day to day.
And, it’s the same with public health agencies. Public health agencies across the country are getting hammered with this virus outbreak and most public health agencies aren’t well staffed – depending upon the tax base – so they all rely heavily on help and assistance. This is why this is as big as 9/11 because if you don’t have that support mechanism, if the population – particularly Generation Z – is not paying attention, then it could be catastrophic.
I mean, look at all the people partying on the Florida beaches this past week. Most of the beaches are closed now, of course, but all of these young kids last week were completely indifferent to coronavirus.
Just like after 9/11, recovery from this thing means compliance from the ground up, and it’s the local communities that are the key to this entire thing. It’s not the federal government, it’s not the state government, it’s the process of local governments applying the new edicts and rules and then maintaining that by making sure that residents are following the rules with respect to the coronavirus.
In Homeland Security: Are we flattening the curve of new cases of COVID-19 and how do we compare to other countriess efforts to flatten it?
Dr. Reynolds: Well, we’re doing it, and that is exactly why they’ve asked people to quarantine in their houses in place. They haven’t restricted travel per se, but they have recommended people not socialize and maintain that social distance. We’ve also shut down restaurants and other places where the public assembles, football games, NASCAR races – you name it – it’s all canceled or postponed.
Then there is the fact that everyone must quickly familiarize themselves with gross decontamination. Most people who have served in the military know all about decontamination because that’s part of their basic training – it’s part of their exercises. However, most civilians don’t know about decontamination, and they don’t realize how easy it is to transmit something like this. That’s why it’s so important to obtain accurate information and guidance.
So, flattening of the curve is to socially isolate the people individually so they don’t have a chance of spreading the coronavirus. Flattening that curve lessens the strain on the infrastructure, in this case the health infrastructure. Whereas over in Italy, their curve is climbing because so many people have been infected with it and it just keeps jumping and it keeps spreading. They haven’t seen a relief on the curve yet and they don’t necessarily maintain the same tactics that the United States is maintaining in terms of keeping people away from other people and educating the public.
Flattening the curve is vital – so we don’t strain the system and it starts at the local level.
All disasters, all of them, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes – you name it – are local events. So, local politicians, local officials, local leadership are all key to successful mitigation. And they do that by informing their populace, by making sure that places where the coronavirus can be spread are shut down or are off-limits. That’s how you flatten the curve.
I think we’re going to see the curve starting to flatten here fairly soon. I can guarantee that we have a huge team of epidemiologists that are looking at a “heat map” of the U.S. and they’re looking right now around the country to find out where the coronavirus heat signatures are and where it’s basically running wild. Officials will then get the assistance to those folks based on what the epidemiologists are telling them.
In Homeland Security: Is a “Great Depression II” a possibility and, if it is, how likely is the introduction of martial law if a worst-case scenario plays out?
Dr. Reynolds: I think that we’re definitely headed into a recession right now – just with the way the markets dropped and you’ve got businesses all around the country that have been literally shut down. And small businesses that have been shut down will likely go out of business altogether because their services are based on the consumer, on customer support. For a depression to occur, the stock market would need to drop even further because it’s then that we start to see major corporations closing and – of course – we’d then have masses of people that are unemployed.
With unprecedented unemployment, the infrastructure would start to break down as more and more people are kept inside their homes. Look at the summer months – if we have millions of people stuck indoors and running their air conditioners, it would put a massive strain on the local infrastructure to be able to handle that. The electrical grid will get stressed to the max. People know this; and they are hearing about the worst-case scenarios nearly every day – and they know about martial law.
I think that’s why all of the panic buying and hoarding is going on. People are nervous. The nightmare scenario is the authorities rationing the electricity or introducing a curfew, which basically means patrol officers out there looking for people busting curfew.
That said, though, I don’t think we are going to see martial law because that means that you’ve got military forces in the street with weapons enforcing the law of the land, and I don’t see that happening with this coronavirus. I think people are going to pull together and do the right things to get through this.
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