When the Story Bends

The pandemic Narrative changed this weekend. I'm guessing you felt it.

Let me show you what you probably felt.

Pictured below is a network graph of articles published by high-circulation US media outlets about COVID-19 the weekend of March 14th and 15th. Closely clustered articles and those connected by lines are more similar in the language they use. Bold-faced nodes and connector lines are those which we judge to be about the stock market, the economy, unemployment and a prospective recession. Colors reference different language-based clusters assigned by the graphing algorithm. The lighter, faded nodes and lines are those which are about other topics.

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  1. Rusty, I love the way you think. Thank you. I am a self-admitted Pedantic Nerd. I have been trying to figure out why no one has identified the critical path of this crisis. We have enough talent and experience in global disease that we should be able to tell the public what progress and success will look like. We don’t have enough information about the current disease to make projections about when we will hit each milestone, but we can certainly identify and label the milestones. I keep watching Apollo 13 and long for the spirit of Gene Kranz to take the podium. Let’s solve the problem, team. Where is the National / State / Local crisis manager to communicate a comprehensive treatment plan to the public.

    Imagine how markets would react if we heard something along the lines of:
    “First, we’re going to get a reliable, easy to administer test so that we can know where the disease is and how fast it’s spreading. Next, we’re going to implement comprehensive testing protocols so that we get a statistically valid representation of the disease’s trend in each local community. We will continue to test so that we know how the disease is spreading over time. When we see new infections level off and drop to 50% of the peak, we will know that we’re in the recovery phase. While the CDC is working on that, FEMA is going to be working with manufactures, distributors and suppliers to get all the necessary equipment and gear into the medical community so that they have the resources to treat anyone and everyone that needs assistance. HUD will work with facilities to find additional space for patients as the traditional facilities reach capacity. HHS will coordinate with Medicare and Medicaid to ensure that facilities and providers have the funding necessary to remain open and pay their employees. Labor Department will coordinate with local universities and technical schools to train and develop support staff for all of the additional capacity. Congress will work with the Treasury and OMB, with guidance from the Federal Reserve, to develop a targeted economic package to help families and businesses weather the downturn. Please follow the advice and guidance from your local coordinators on what steps you can take to stay safe and help your community. Ladies and Gentlemen, Failure is not an option. We will get through this. As new information is developed, we will share it with you and all of the teams working through this emergency. Thank you for your patience, your assistance, and most of all, your dedication to beating this disease.”

  2. Yes! Exactly this - love it.

  3. Can someone please send this excellent plan to the White House? Now?

  4. Perhaps the term deplorables should have been applied to our civic leaders

  5. I second Rusty’s motion: this is superb. I hope you’ll circulate it as widely as possible ASAP. Thanks.

  6. Avatar for tany tany says:

    I’ve been wondering the same thing TheCoeus, and having led crisis projects before I have some ideas as to what might be happening. Assuming good intention across the board, some likely candidates are:

    1. It’s complex to see what a hurricane is when you’re in the eye of the storm. Everything seems fine, and though you can see and hear the wall of the storm, you cannot yet understand the depth, height or severity of it.
    2. Governing is, unfortunately, distinct from politics. When politicians are faced with a crisis that requires true governing some are simply not up to the task and freeze. They freeze in the same way any leader who is in too deep freezes. They fall back on old processes and systems that worked before and hope that they will work again.

    I think we’ve seen evidence of both of these. The first being Pence’s tepid action since his appointment and the second being Trump’s reflexive attempt to minimize the issue as a hoax and more recently claiming credit for the “extraordinary” and “effective” baring of travel from China (which didn’t actually happen, airlines shut off flights on their own).

    If we extrapolate this set of assertions we can come to an educated guess about what will happen to actually get us through this mess. When leaders freeze in this manner, the competent direct reports at first wait and see, they check the weather as ti were. When they find the temperature to be rising and the crisis intensifying instead of abating, they begin to slowly act separately from their manager in an attempt to do their best to solve the problem in their own bit of the world. As these competent underlings begin to encounter each other and find allies they eventually manage to move the whole project forward despite the manager in charge. My father once described this phenomena as “leading around someone” as opposed to true leadership.

    I suspect that we’re seeing this taking place even today, most publicly in the Coronavirus Task Force meetings. You can see examples of it as Fauci and Birx back each other up against Trump. You can see it as Pence takes the microphone, thanks Trump for his great work, then empowers Fauci and Birx to speak truth with him shielding them from Trump, sometimes physically on the stage. You can see it as the Governors step up and preempt the federal guidelines, opening the state coffers and doing their best to stem the tide as best they can with their meager resources.

    Will this be fast enough? Will it have the quality we hope to see? Probably not. It certainly won’t yield the clear and concise plan you and I are hoping for, but it just might work.

  7. Tany, very good points. You reinforce a lot of the other points that have been made in ET articles. We are no longer in a cooperation game, it’s all competition. There are good people willing to make personal sacrifices for the good of the country, their community, their pack, but they are surrounded and superseded by mediocre people only looking out for themselves. If a nationwide health crisis is not enough to unify the country, what will it take? What level of crisis / calamity will it take for people to come together and strive for the common good? Is it even possible? Hope springs eternal, but like a Midwestern aquifer, mine has slowed to a trickle.

  8. That would require someone there to read it and then adequately communicate it to the higher-ups. I wouldn’t bet on that being the likely outcome.

  9. TheCoeus - I tried to give you +100 but the system said “oops, something went wrong” so please accept the pack’s gratitude for your exceptional plan. It doesn’t show up (yet), but there is a +100 there.

  10. Sadly, after more than three weeks some of this great article could have been written TODAY! They are pushing hard on Reopening America, Round 2 (RAR2) even to the point of stirring up some of the masses. Reference the first two summary bullets at the end…

    1. It could be argued that the healthcare system has been given time and breathing room. How “overbuilding” emergency capacity seems to somehow justify some of the RAR2 people is beyond me since the social distancing has obviously spared many cities from experiencing something similar to NYC. Or Italy, Spain & France. People just didn’t know what was going to happen. Prepare for the worst, hope for the best is often the prudent and right thing to do. Moreover, it is still possible that there will be additional clusters and even full outbreaks in other areas going forward. We don’t know. But at least the processes and care and mechanisms for treating people will be mostly understood.

    2. Testing. Why DPA wasn’t/isn’t being used to martial people and resources required for widespread testing defies logic. Apparently the (critical mass) of responsibility of getting the testing in place has been kicked to the states and private enterprise. The cynic in me says that if this were done then DT’s narrative that we are the best at testing will look as flimsy to everyone as it does to the minority of people who have been following this since January. For example, one could argue that most of the testing in NYC (where most of the testing has occurred) over the last few weeks was in vain and could have, should have been applied to other areas at risk so as to know when to double down on containment. Or possibly even more testing for health care workers across the country. They already knew in NYC that the outbreak was out of control and the results of all that testing wasn’t changing anything. Quarantine was going to continue. People requiring hospitalization would have been admitted anyway (don’t tell me they all got tested after all) and… etc. So the risk remains that the lack of testing in other areas of the country over the last few weeks (used up in NYC to increase numbers on a chart mainly) could come back to bite us. Only the Federal Government could have ramped up and effectively (OK now I see why it didn’t happen) distributed testing so as to best avert large outbreaks. Only time will tell if we do. But that same testing will need to be out there to avert secondary waves. But it appears we are still waiting. It’s probably only a matter of time before we can go to the market and simply buy our own tests. Sign me up.

    Then there is the economic and social fall out from all this. I’m not sure we are even out of the first inning…

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