The worldwide incidence and spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) has captured the minds of everyone on the planet.
How does this virus spread primarily? From person to person. If that's the case, shouldn't achieving social distancing be our primary goal?
The CDC and the White House did issue guidelines to limit the size of gatherings towards this goal. While they were recommending social distancing guidelines, they also enabled the conditions for “social proximity” by announcing the travel bans. The overarching statements about the travel bans caused chaos, confusion and panic among Americans abroad.
A crisis like the COVID-19 tends to test the judgment and leadership skills of our nation's leaders.
No one considered the passenger processing capability and capacity at each of the 13 airports to avoid the social proximity that would result and induce an incubator environment as a consequence of a mad rush back to the US over a short period of two days.
With airport conditions creating long shoulder-to-shoulder lines and some travelers being asked to share pens by officials to fill the forms, the situations became contrary to the goal. The 4 to 7 hour waits at major airports forced people to huddle in lines with close proximity to many others. The chances of one individual at each of these locations being infected with COVID-19 was not small.
Did anyone consider these scenarios before announcing the ban?
Were the announcements made to achieve their stated goal of reducing the spread of the Coronavirus or to make a statement that drastic actions are being taken towards the spread of COVID-19. My question is whether the bans would actually increase the incidence of the virus in the US?
Many panic driven and ill-conceived decisions that masquerade as good solutions actually propagate and exacerbate the very problem that they intend to solve.
Designing a plan based on the capacity of each airport to process each passenger considering the additional time for medical screening would have been a wise starting point. Regulating the arrival of flights such that the airport personnel could screen and process the travelers in a timely manner would have ensured that social distancing could be honored and achieved.
If we are able to track the spread of COVID-19, I predict that the tight quarters along with the forced social proximity at the various airports could be the single biggest catalyst for the spread of the disease in the United States.
One ill-conceived decision intended to curtail and manage the impact of the virus could actually become the biggest perpetrator of the virus. The counter-intuitive nature of many systems can easily trick the human mind, especially when it is consumed with fear or anxiety. Many sub-optimal or downright damaging solutions feel and look very good at the outset because they address our human need for immediate gratification from our painful experiences.
The moral to learn here is that many of the natural tendencies of humans are at odds with the behavior of the systems that we operate in and those that govern our lives.
Be well, be safe, be courageous.