Flattening the CURVE or Flattening the FEAR?

by Vernon M. Oro

Posted on 2020-09-28

The impact created by the COVID-19 Pandemic is unprecedented which forced the humanity as a social being to stay away from anyone. This has also overwhelmed even the advance medical technology of the developed countries and contracted the entire economy to its lowest record. Experts believed that the Flattening of the Curve is a key indicator to overcome this virus. While our government, the business organizations, the working force, and the entire local community are trying all the necessary precautionary measures to reach this benchmark, the economic recovery aspects is equally significant to be highly considered. Otherwise, it will worsen the impact to everyone which will further slowdown our recovery. Definitely we have to “Flatten the Curve” to make us free from the stigma of this virus. But is it enough to survive and move our economy back on track? Well, let me introduce to you the opposite side of the coin to further help us in overcoming this great challenge… “Flattening the Fear”.

According to Johns Hopkins University (JSU) COVID-19 Dashboard as of this writing, the Global Cases has already reached around 31.3M. US is #1 (6.9M), followed by India (5.6M), then Brazil (4.6M), Russia (1.1M), and Colombia (770K) as the top #5. Surprisingly, for a small country like us will rank at #21 with total cases of around 292K. We are next to Italy, then we are #1 in SE Asia, and #7 in Asia.

Though the virus started to spread in China and there were thousands of deaths during the initial stage, but the World was alarmed when it rapidly spread in Europe. During the 1st 2 months of the Pandemic the rapid death case of Europe particularly Italy & Spain, creates a tremendous stigma that the COVID-19 is like a death sentence once you are infected. Not just seen by the entire world in the international news agencies, but also in YouTube that even the advance medical & hospital services of these countries were completely overwhelmed. Also contributing are the pile of coffins in the churches & cemeteries, and abandon dead bodies lying in the streets in one city of Honduras. This could be also the stigma brought by the Black Death (Bubonic Plague) during the 17Th Century and the Spanish Flu during the early 19Th Century which kills millions of people in the European continent.

How about in our country? I bet most of us has already forgot how this problem started with us. Well, let me do some trivia…Did you know that our first case was a 38 Yrs. Old Chinese woman on Jan. 30, 2020? Then the first death was a Chinese national on Feb 2? The fourth case on March 6 is actually the first Filipino local case. When our government declared the community quarantine in Luzon area on March 16, guess what how many confirmed cases during that time? It was just 142. In fairness, our government acted quickly to implement the preventive measure to put the entire Luzon area under the ECQ. But why it creates so much fear to everyone? I think the simple answer to that is because nobody wants to die. Upon the declaration of the Luzon wide community quarantine, majority of the industries stopped and most of us hides in our houses. This is somehow to slowdown the infection rate. In effect, it did not just slowdown our economy, but it also stop our economy. For 2 months our government tried its best efforts to minimize the economic impact particularly the poorest of the poor through a Social Amelioration Program (SAP), and the Small Business Wage Subsidy (SBWS) Program for the eligible workers/employees. But obviously it is too tough to sustain in that way.

On May 29, 2020 the IATF-EID issued Resolution No. 41 placing NCR and other provinces around under General Community Quarantine (GCQ) starting June 1, 2020. This is after 2 months of being placed into strict Enhance Community Quarantine (ECQ) and half month of Modified Enhance Community Quarantine (MECQ). The total cases at that time was 16.6K. Does the flattening of the curve was the basis of the government to relax the quarantine to GCQ? By the way, what do you mean by “Flattening the Curve” in managing COVID-19? It simply means by trying to decrease and delay the epidemic peak. This is done by slowing the infection rate to decrease the risk of health services being overwhelmed, allowing for better treatment of current cases, and delaying additional cases until effective treatments or a vaccine become available. If the 1-Month data of daily infection rate between 200 to 300 as the basis, perhaps we reached at that time the “Flattening the Curve”. On the other hand, at that specific date May 29 when the decision was made, we hit the highest record of new cases at 1,046 and death toll was already at 942.

The COVID-19 pandemics has greatly affected the Philippine economy. The government best option is lifting the ECQ to somehow lessen the impact to our economy and give businesses to breath and the capability to operate and stop further losses.

Under GCQ the government allow businesses to operate up to 50% of their current manpower. To revive the business and the economy is not just the most difficult challenge of every business owner and the government to face during the GCQ. But as the top-most priority is, how to ensure the safety of the employees you have asked to return to work. This is also in consideration the stigma of fear brought by this pandemic which could be some employees prefer to stay at home instead. But realistically speaking, the Work-From-Home (WFH) scheme is not feasible to all industries.

With the current quarantine level, management laid different solutions to ensure the safety of their workforce who will be back to their actual work in the New Normal environment. Under the GCQ, government allows public transportation but on a maximum of 50% capacity only to ensure the social distancing is strictly followed. In effect, other than this will reduce the transportation availability by 50% and making tough for the communing workforce, it will also increase the risk to exposure to infection. To address this issue, the government encourage the businesses to consider, if economically feasible, to provide shuttle services to their employees. This measure will give confidence to the employees that somehow the risk of exposure to infection will be minimized.

Government has also mandated guidelines and safety protocol standards for businesses to follow to further minimize the risk of being expose to infection in case they will start to open their operations. DOLE in collaboration with DTI in relation to the Proclamation No. 922 has released the Guidelines for each company to strictly follow. https://www.officialgazette.gov.ph/downloads/2020/02feb/20200308-PROC-922-RRD-1.pdf https://www.dole.gov.ph/news/dti-and-dole-interim-guidelines-on-workplace-prevention-and-control-of-covid-19/

Here are some of the stated guidelines:

1. All employees should wear their face mask and face shields all the times (Can only be removed when eating and drinking)

2. The company should maintain the daily health symptoms questionnaire.

3. The company should check the temperature of each employee reporting to work.

4. Only 50% of manpower is allowed each time for the company to ensure proper social distancing.

5. Alcohol and Sanitizer should be available in the work area and other common areas within the company.

6. All washroom and toilet shall have sufficient amount to clean water and soap to encourage all employees to wash their hands.

7. The areas that is frequently being handled by employee should be cleaned and sanitized regularly.

The above measures were just part of the big solution. If the protocols will be strictly and consistently implemented and seriously followed by the working populations, most likely it will help to flatten the curve. The Flattening of the Curve is just one of the important indicators on how we should deal this Pandemic problem.

Psychology says, Fear is a natural, powerful, and primitive human emotion. So, it is understandably the current COVID-19 statistics has created the Stigma of Fear to the entire humanity. It is our survival instinct and mechanism to make us extremely alert which our natural physical response is either to “FLIGHT or FIGHT”. This is our instinct response that is crucial to our survival. As human being who naturally does not want to experience pain, our initial reaction to a certain Fear that will possibly create harm to us, is to “Flight”, or to stay away or hide. If we prolong our flight, that might flatten the curve, but it might also prolong our sufferings and the recovery to normal operation to restore our healthy economy.

According to an article in Scientific American, “How the COVID-19 Pandemic Could End”? The projections about how COVID-19 will play out are speculative, but the end game will most likely involved a mix of everything that checked past pandemics: Continued social-control measures to buy time, new antiviral medications to ease symptoms, and a vaccine. The exact formula – how long control measures such as social distancing must stay in place, for instance – depends in large part of how strictly people obey restrictions and how effectively government respond. The question on how the pandemic plays out is at least 50% social and political and the other 50% will probably come from science, says Sarah Cobey, an epidemiologist and evolutionary biologist from the University of Chicago.

Unless the world’s eight billion inhabitants who are not currently sick or recovered will be vaccinated, COVID-19 is likely to become “endemic”. It could be like a normal Flu virus which will circulate and make us sick seasonally—sometimes very sick. But if the virus stays in the human population long enough, it will start to infect children when they are young. Those cases are typically, though not always, quite mild, and so far, the children appear less likely to develop severe disease if they get reinfected as adults. The combination of vaccination and natural immunity will protect many of us. Experts believed that the coronavirus, like most viruses, will live on—but not as a planetary plague.

There is one tiny statistical indicator that we might overlooked because we are focusing our attention to the bigger statistical data like total cases that keep on rising everyday which we correlate it to the Flattening of the Curve. That tiny statistical indicator is what you call the CFR (Case Fatality Rate) or the number of deaths versus the number of cases. As of this date, the CFR of Philippines is 1.7%. We Filipinos were blessed with strong immune system I guessed! Our recovery rate is very high at 98.3%. Unfortunately, our senior citizens particularly with the underlying medical conditions are the most prone to be infected and higher fatality rate. So, lets protect our Lolos & Lolas.

So, instead of triggering our instinct to “Flight”, why not “Fight”? “Flattening the Curve” is not enough. Why not also “Flattening the Fear”? We already knew the potential chance on how we could be infected by this virus. For the past months we are daily bombarded of information in all sorts of medias on how we can practically protect ourselves. We are already aware that the first line of defense is the right social distancing, with the face mask & face shield as the second and third layers of protection. We should be always armed with alcohol that at anytime we can sanitize ourselves once we touched common areas. If we could add also in our discipline to eat the healthy food, drink plenty of liquids, sleep well, takes exercise, spend at least 15 minutes walks under morning sun lights, and if you can still stretch your budget for supplemental vitamins, this will boast our natural immune system and anti-bodies to combat & killed this virus even it’s already inside our bodies.

The constitutional mandates of the government during a Pandemic is to protect the life of the entire Filipino nation as the topmost priority. Government should formulate and strictly implement guidelines and protocols particularly on affected areas to at least control the situation. Our economic managers should ensure that at least our economy will survive and revamp the soonest as possible by formulating policies and strategic action plans to drive our economy back on tract.

While the various business organizations as the partner to drive the economic development must adhere at all times the guidelines and protocol standards mandated to ensure the safety of the working force, while reviving at the same time their economic livelihood. The creativity of the business managers to create strategic action plans is crucial in stimulating the marketplace under the New Normal environment and opportunity. This is also the great time for the Human Resources Team of each organization to reach out deeper and give much value the most important asset of the organization – The People. It is not just their productivity and safety we have to look at. We have to care much also on their emotional and psychological conditions. An important role that an HR can do during this isolation period is to be the bridge of the communication gap between the employer and the employee.

On the other hand, the working force as the main fiber of our economic growth, we should not lower our guard at all time while performing our important duty and functions in reviving our economy. We have to evolve and adapt ourselves also in the New Normal environment. This is also our opportunity to learn, to change and to move outside our normal comfort zone.

The Flattening of the Curve can be achieved with the commitment and collaborative efforts of everyone… the Government, the Business Organizations, and the Working Force. The absence of one is the failure of everyone. When there is trust and commitment by everyone, the confidence to move forward together will start to fuel higher regardless of the challenge lying ahead like the current Pandemic crisis. Moving forward together will give us the courage to Flatten the Fear. Time flies, we defeat together the stigma brought by this COVID-19 Pandemic in the entire humanity.