Time to be smart about all of this.

It only took us 10 months, but we are finally starting to focus in the numbers that count — hospital capacity and mortality. Since our society and political system are not set up for the Chinese model (welding the doors of apartment complexes shut), we were obliged to deal with the spread of a very contagious virus. Our only possible course of action was mitigation.

As long as hospitals have beds available to those requiring hospitalization and ICU beds available for those severely affected, the lessons learned in the last 10 months allow mortality to be kept to a minimum. As long as we understand that more than 40% of deaths were residents of nursing homes and probably another 10% were residents of bed and care facilities, we can concentrate efforts to slow the spread and administer vaccine in the right order.

Our society is full of the people who didn’t fit in very well elsewhere. That’s why they left. Many of us are not very good at lining up and following the rules. Our so-called leaders do not have the means to compel major changes in behavior that are inconvenient and/or costly. We are barely able to keep serious crime under control. Compliance with COVID mitigation measures is essentially voluntary. Many of those in authority have hindered the effort by failing to follow the rules they promulgated.

As a veteran of many corporate reorganizations, bonus programs and social crusades, I have developed a few rules for attempting to generate voluntary compliance. Here are the basics.

A request to alter behavior should be simple and straightforward. The rationale needs to be credible (pass the giggle test) and clearly explained. “Flatten the curve” was the first cry of the great and good. That worked. The specter of sick people dying in the hallways of hospitals (aka Italy) and physicians performing triage to ration ICU beds was clearly understandable.

A request to alter behavior is more effective if there is an emotional component. Something to feel good about — we are saving our organization, saving the planet, defeating an evil enemy. Support for health care workers, grocery clerks and garbage collectors risking their health/lives to keep us going was a great tug at the heart strings. Emotional commitment is reinforced if those requesting change lead by example (first one out of the trench).

MOST IMPORTANTLY, the message must be consistent and consistently sold. Constantly moving the ball and shifting the criteria while saying “the scientists told us so” does not cut it. Telling restaurant owners they can survive if they set up outdoor dining and then closing down outdoor dining is the worst possible way to send the message. There is very little market for used plywood and used space heaters.

Finally, there must be an element of reward. Government has prevented hundreds of thousands of small business owners from making a living. Forgivable loans to make payroll was a decent step, but not enough. They should have been given money to cover rent, debt service and operating expenses. They should have been given money to replace the profit they would have made for every day they are shut down. Workers get unemployment payments; owners put food on the table from profits of their businesses. According to the Fifth Amendment to our Constitution, government should pay for anything it confiscates.

Thank whomever/whatever you worship for the vaccine. Our efforts to control the pandemic have sucked, and we have trashed large parts of the economy in the process.

A Different View