Responding to

“I think goals should never be easy, they should force you to work,
even if they are uncomfortable at the time.”

Michael Phelps
Poorly defined goals lead to poor results. Such seems to be the case with COVID-19 in this country.

Most policy makers have been unable to articulate a clear, consistent goal for suppression of COVID-19. "Flattening the curve" and "slowing the spread" mean different things to different people. And while evolving guidelines have been offered, contradictory guidelines and abstract goals typically lead to a wide variety of behaviors - everything from people going into long-term lockdowns to folks behaving as if it's business-as-usual. The standard for a "yellow" designation under the state's Red-to-Green-Framework, "an average percent of positive COVID-19 test results over the most recent 14-day period less than or equal to 5%," doesn't really tell people what they need to do on a daily basis, particularly if we've already been following the guidelines.

Unfortunately, vague guidelines are the best we have right now. And many people are not willing to accept even minimal restrictions, especially if they feel they somehow limit their personal freedom. As a result, we have multiple surges in infections and repeated lockdowns and restrictions.

This past summer, the Australian state of Victoria was experiencing a second COVID-19 surge (it was their winter). Rather than issue piecemeal and inconsistent guidelines such as those we've had in the US, Victoria's leaders set an unlikely target. They didn’t want to simply reduce their COVID-19 infection rates, they wanted to eliminate the virus entirely.

According to this article in Vox, by the end of November, they did.

As of last week, they had seen no active cases for a full four weeks. Melbourne, the state’s capital and a city with about as many people as the greater Washington, DC, area, is apparently coronavirus-free. Time will tell if they can keep it that way.

Their approach was pretty extreme. In August, the state went into a nearly complete lockdown. Most businesses closed, there was a nightly curfew, and residents were ordered to stay within five kilometers of their homes. The lockdown was extended in September. The goal of reaching zero new cases was clearly articulated. “Having a clear, uniform goal that everyone could work toward was critical to Victoria’s success,” observed Jennifer Kates, director of global health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation. “But they didn’t just have a goal. They established the underlying components that were needed and provided strong social support.”

And that's the difference in this country. We have neither a clear, uniform goal for addressing the virus nor do we have strong social support for any goal.
In contrast to the experience in Victoria, Frank Bruni offered this view of the COVID-19 response in North and South Dakota. Jamie Smith, minority leader of South Dakota's House of Representatives lamented, "it's mind boggling" when talking about how charged basic safety measures such as physical distancing and wearing face masks had become. He was also commenting on many residents’ distrust of science and their unshakable belief that the virus won't come for them.

Bruni also spoke with Lawrence Klemin, a Republican legislator in North Dakota where there has been no unified message from state leaders. Klemin commented that people “are pretty much independent-minded about how they conduct their affairs.” The governor eventually issued an executive order requiring face masks in mid-November. Paul Carson, a public health professor at North Dakota State University told Bruni, "North Dakotans will come to each other’s aids in a heartbeat, but when asked to give up personal freedom for an amorphous common good, that’s difficult."

Nevertheless, we have examples in this country where the common good outweighed perceived individual freedom. The use of seat belts and prohibiting smoking in public places are two such examples. At their core, they're efforts to limit the negative consequences of individuals' behaviors on both the individuals themselves and those around them (think of second-hand smoke). They were also intended to decrease the personal and societal costs associated with certain behaviors. It took consistent and repeated messages over a number of years before either gained traction. Such is the mindset of many people in this country.

Unfortunately, the pandemic doesn't lend itself to messaging over a number of years.
And because we've had inconsistent messaging, surges in infections and hospitalizations continue, the economy sputters, unemployment rises, and more and more people suffer unnecessary hardships.

The dispiriting truth is that it was all avoidable.

Kitchen Angels is an example of how a simple and consistent message can be both effective in addressing a problem and can bridge political, economic, gender, ethnicity, age and other differences. Setting aside differences in support of something greater than ourselves is possible and we do it here every day. Our goal is to make sure that every homebound and chronically ill individual in our community has enough to eat. Although we'll probably never get there, that's our target. The same can be true of eliminating COVID-19 infections. All it requires is that we set aside, for a short time at least, some of our immediate personal comfort and our belief that our personal freedom matters more than other people's lives.

It may be too late for the US to target zero spread. It may be that the best we can hope for is a difficult winter followed by a slow, steady distribution of vaccines and an eventual reveal of our "new normal." But I don't believe it's too late for the local community.

Victoria found what worked for them. We can find what works for us.

Perhaps Kitchen Angels volunteers can talk to their friends, families, colleagues, and associates, about targeting a zero spread. Perhaps, if we keep that simple message percolating throughout our various communities and support each other at the same time, we might find we have an enormous impact. Once enough people accept the truth of a situation and then focus their attention and efforts on a single goal, extraordinary things can happen. It's called the tipping point and it's "that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire."

It's just a thought. But then, what do we have to lose?

As always, thank you for believing in our mission and for being part of our family. And thank you for doing everything you can to keep yourself and others as safe and as healthy as possible.

In gratitude,
Thank you for all your vigilance. We want you to stay safe,
healthy, and informed.
Too Many "Near Misses"

Kitchen Angels has now had several "near misses," with volunteers exposed to COVID-19 coming in to volunteer and telling staff or other volunteers of their exposure after their shift. Fortunately, each exposure tested negative.

An active case of COVID-19 within Kitchen Angels will shut us down.

If you've been exposed to COVID-19, or think you've been exposed to COVID-19, you must tell Lauren before you come into the Kitchen Angels facility. She will explain our quarantine requirements and let you know what to do before you may return to volunteering.

If you need to find a testing site in New Mexico, click here. If you're confused about testing for COVID-19, here's an article that offers some useful information about the different tests and what they mean. Bear in mind that a negative test result is not a free pass to drop your mask and socialize in groups. It’s a snapshot in time. It’s possible you still have the virus and are infectious but that the amount of virus in your system is not yet detectible.
New Public Health Order

The state's newest public health order, which took effect December 11, prohibits all acute care hospitals from providing non-essential surgical procedures through January 4, 2021. Surgeries are deemed non-essential if their delay won’t present risk to the patients’ health.

At her press conference last Thursday, Governor Lujan Grisham announced that 916 patients were hospitalized for the virus across the state, a number she called "dramatic." Of those hospitalized,159 required the use of ventilators.

Human Services Secretary David Scrase added that hospitals are reaching alarming numbers as they cope with pandemic patients, reporting that the coronavirus accounts for more than fifty percent of patients at some hospitals.

Click here to read about the governor's announcement.