Thursday, April 24, 2008

Chapter Fifty

Many population sectors have been decimated by the pandemic.

Overall, people under the age of 40 suffered in a much greater proportion than their 40 and older counterparts. In any given area you can see an average of a 3% to 40% infection rate. This rate was largely dependent on the early and consistent application of mitigation procedures. The most significant spikes in infection were seen in the school age children when schools and public gatherings involving children were not closed or halted quickly enough. This was in direct contrast to the reports proceeding the pandemic that closing schools would not bring any significant benefit as a mitigation practice.

Forced containment and congregate living facilities suffered up to 100% infection rates and up to 90% death rates. Prisons suffered the greatest losses followed closely by mental health facilities. However some juvenile detention facilities escaped mass fatalities by instituting immediate lock downs - putting many inmates in solitary confinement - an option not open to few adult prison facilities.

State run and private mental health facilities that had residential wards released as many of their residents as they could once the pandemic was confirmed. The remaining resident populations were quarantined. Further, some of these hospitals were forced to close their doors when staff numbers dropped below the institution’s ability to care for their residents releasing even more mentally at-risk people into the general public. A small number of the worst mental health patients, such as those incarcerated because they were mentally incompetent to be tried for criminal offenses, were transferred to local prison facilities where they were housed separately from the general population.

This mass release by the prison and mental health facilities caused a marked problem for the communities that they were being released into. Research is ongoing but it is believed at present that communities experienced additional civil unrest as well as the unnecessary compromising of mitigation procedures as a direct result.

There are marked demographic changes through out the entire country. Not only in age, but in social make up. In some areas religion and religious institutions have become a driving force. This is usually found in communities where local government failed thereby forcing faith-related charities and groups in the area to step in to keep their towns going. Some towns are willing to release the reins back to local governments now that the pandemic appears to be waning; some are not. This is causing its own set of problems, especially if the community also wants to keep the faith-based groups in control because they’ve lost confidence in the previous bureaucracy.

Racial supremacy groups are firmly entrenched in some areas with the full support of local residents. This crosses the whole racial spectrum with some areas being controlled by whites, some by Hispanics, some by Asians, some by blacks, some by various Persian and Middle Eastern ethnicities, etc. And each group is running their area based on their cultural beliefs and practices. These practices do not always follow US Constitutional law, thus creating significant additional tensions within US borders.

Some cities still suffer an extremely high crime rate. Such cities also suffer from a high rate of mental illnesses. Reported homicide rates and suicide rates are at historical highs across the nation.

Months still remain before the removal of federal troops from deployment on American soil can be accomplished. The National Guard will be on permanent deployment for the foreseeable future, but each division will be assigned within their home state unless a waiver is signed. To address overwork and shortages of trained soldiers, instead of a Draft, there may be a call for mandatory service by all citizens similar to what occurs in other countries with each citizen over the age of 18 owing their country so many months or years of active military service. The emergency bill currently under consideration makes no distinction between male or female, but would give the option to serve either in the military or the national guard. No one is sure whether this bill will pass. Incentives are being considered to make enlistment more appealing to the public.

Contrary to the 1918 Spanish Influenza Pandemic, the wave pattern for infections were not dramatic spikes so much as they built to plateaus which only gradually declined before rising to the next plateau. The waves lasted longer thus appearing flatter on a graph. Of the three major waves of this pandemic, the first was the most infectious but was not the most lethal because some prophylactic medications and care were still available. The second wave was only slightly less infectious, but the death rate was considerably higher for this wave because of the lack of trained health care as well as the debilitation of the population caused by infrastructure collapse including the lack of food distribution.

The third and final distinct wave was much less infectious and much less lethal than the earlier waves. While the research is still out, there are some hypotheses to explain this. The first is the "herd immunity" theory that says that enough people had been infected that the virus no longer had a viable population to survive and transmit in. The second is that the virus itself had mutated to a less lethal and less infectious form. The third is that the application of mitigation procedures and newly developed vaccines to special populations had prevented the virus from finding hosts that it could efficiently replicate in. Yet another hypothesis stated that it was not one of these, but a combination of all of them and possibly more. Only time and research will determine the true cause for the decrease in lethality.

The world population was estimated to be 6,602, 674, 916 just prior to the pandemic starting. A compiling of the last number of worldwide infections revealed a ballpark estimate of 2,641,069,966 pandemic infections. Additional compiling has revealed that there have been 264,106,996 reported deaths from pandemic infections in all reporting countries. These numbers are still subject to change and it is unclear in some countries whether these totals include collateral deaths or not. Communications and information from some areas is still very sketchy. It will be months, if not years, before anything approaching a certified count is offered to the general public.

As a result of pandemic destabilization, different areas of the world are seeing a resurgence in political upheavals. Religious and ethnic clashes are escalating. Many governments lost their heads of state or have large gaps in their ruling parties. While these entities may have been imperfect, they did offer some structure and stability. With it gone, it will take a while for a strong enough and charismatic enough leader to emerge to re-meld what was broken.

A modicum of international trade has re-started, but only between countries that proved themselves to be allies during the pandemic. The US, Canada, and the UK have already set up mutual aid programs. They are trading resources, personnel, and committing political support in the international landscape. Mexico may become part of this coalition in the coming months if their national government can wrest control back the drug cartels and gangs.

It hasn’t just been depravations of health and finances affecting countries around the world. There are environmental depravations evident as well. The oil fields of the Middle East are on fire after they became the target of opposing military and guerilla factions. There is literally tons of medical waste that still needs to be dealt with. Burial details are still weeks and months behind in trying to dispose of human remains. The aftermath of hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, LA – when it took months to legally process all of the corpses found after the flooding receded – was barely a foretaste of what faces the forensic communities in the face of a pandemic. Water sources have been contaminated by waterborne disease. There are few central garbage collection companies still in operation. Toxic waste dump sites have begun to leak and infiltrate ground water when their disposal containers began to break down due to lack of care.

For now most people are still focused on individual survival rather than environmental repair. For some, survival is still so precarious that they are willing to compromise their ideals, beliefs, and preferences. If that means helping to support a government that will help you to survive better, then so be it.

The economic outlook for the USA: Because of existing - if temporarily off line - infrastructure and equipment, the US is finding post-pandemic rebuilding easier than many countries. Plants that closed when jobs were moved overseas are slowly being re-opened. The back-to-work support programs are spearheading the refurbishing of many of these manufacturing facilities. Most of the pieces of the economic puzzle already exist within our borders, manufacturing plants and the majority of the natural resources to operate them. The US has staff, It has the know-how and the flexibility to create work-arounds for changes necessitated by lack of resources. It has significant agricultural resources, which means that we don’t have to import all of our food needs. Of course there will always be complainers. But things were so bad for so long, the first shining rays of tomorrow are, for now, enough for most people.

Speaking of import and export issues, when the US stopped exporting food so that the government could feed its own citizenry first many countries retaliated. Some manufacturing export countries threatened to stop trading with the US. Given no choice, the US said, "OK. And when we get back on our feet and replace the manufactured goods that you refused to sell us, we’ll be sure and remember you then." And that is exactly what is happening. Those countries that continued to act as an allie to the US during the pandemic are at the top of their list for any mutual aid that the US can offer. Those that refused haven’t even made the list yet; some that threatened to unleash nuclear and biological warfare never will. After the discovery of the large oil reserves in North and South Dakota, the US dependence on crude from places like Venezuela and the Middle East has dwindled. Population and service decreases, resulting in greatly decreased demand, have also broken those bonds.

Transportation systems within the country are still compromised. Some mass transit systems are trying to get back up and running, mainly through the efforts of the "work for food" programs sponsored by the Feds. Horse driven trolleys are being used along existing track systems in some areas. Old steam engines have been pulled off of the tourist routes to be used in the commercial industries but some are still being re-fitted for modern tracks and industry safety standards. A couple of savvy entrepreneurs in the Gulf of Mexico, who borrowed the idea from a similar venture in the Great Lakes, have created a commercial fleet from sailboats of various sizes. Small sailboats are used as water taxis. Larger boats are used in a fishing fleet. The largest sailboats are used for shipping and receiving items being traded from Mexico, around the entire Gulf coast, down to the Florida Keys, and are starting to venture into the Caribbean though piracy is still a huge problem.

Sissy’s brother and three other truckers, plus a machine shop owner and his family, have teamed together to create a fleet of commercial trucks that will run on both regular diesel and bio-diesel. They’ve contracted with a work-for-food program operating in northern Florida to get all of their used cooking oil, which is considerable, as they feed large numbers of people everyday. The set-up is still primitive, but they’ve already had a representative from several nearby counties come by to see about replicating their system. Some communities have instituted mandatory recycling for cooking oil. In exchange, participants receive an allotment of the resulting biofuel.

Aquaculture in Florida has, so far, quadrupled from prepandemic production. This has been due in large part to partnerships between E.P.C.O.T. (formerly a well-known tourist attraction), the University of Florida’s Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, and many family-owned hatcheries. The aquaculture supports a hydroponic gardening method that in turns helps feed the aquaculture tanks. The symbiotic relationship is easily established producing both local meat, fruit and vegetable supplies. The Federal government, after reviewing the methodology of the Florida companies, has begun educational training/re-training programs in several other states that offer aquaculture and hydroponics business opportunities.

While the US has done quite well in some areas, in other areas there are still steep challenges facing the residents. Florida in particular has been quite transparent in publicizing their efforts, both the success and the failures. At the start of the pandemic the population of FL was estimated at 19,668,279 people. So far, a state government sponsored commission has confirmed nearly 8,000,000 reported pandemic flu infections statewide. Additionally they have confirmed 786,731 deaths due to pandemic influenza. The average number of fatalities recorded prepandemic was approximately 170,00 annually. The number of pandemic flu deaths is over four times greater. The fatality numbers will rise however once collateral deaths (deaths not caused by pandemic flu, but contributed to by it) and non-pandemic deaths (deaths that were not pandemic-related at all) are tallied and reported.

The Commission also reported on other areas of population change. Births alone will take many years to replace the lost population as normally births only increase Florida's population by one percent annually. Many people expect there to be some population increase due to emigration and flugee relocation. However, flugee relocation efforts are on-hold until more infrastructure and job opportunities can be re-built.

No one has been left unaffected. Even the roving reporter Devon McLoud eventually had to face the music. Luckily for him, it wasn’t a funeral dirge.

First, I want to express my gratitude to all of you listeners who have been sending your prayers and well wishes for my survival and now recovery. I would also like to express my humblest gratitude to the people of Olustee, Florida who looked after me as if I were a member of their family rather than a stranger found collapsed on the side of the road.

I finally understand why so many people didn’t prepare during the prepandemic years. It wasn’t a failure by the government to inform because the information was out there. I understand why people thought they could avoid infection yet continue to live however they chose. The failure wasn’t with the media because story after story proved such attempts to be failures. I understand why, even when people personally witnessed others doing things that got them infected, they themselves did those very same things and became ill during subsequent waves of infection.

These circumstances can 99.9 percent of the time be attributed to one single thought. "It cannot happen to me."

I finally fell victim to this myself. Some where along the road my sincere desire to report on this incredible historic event turned to the arrogant belief that this was my calling. My arrogance led to feelings of invincibility. Invincibility led me to make risky decisions and just plain stupid mistakes.

I was in a hurry to get to my next segment location and felt too rushed to read notices that were posted along the road I was travelling. It was only after I had cussed myself breathless because I was having to climb over yet another fence that I stopped long enough to read one of the signs that had hung on posts for the last couple of miles. WARNING: BIOHAZARD ROUTE.

My initial panic quickly gave way before my need to believe everything would be OK. I hadn’t seen or spoken with anyone along the way. There had been debris on the road, but I hadn’t picked it up to examine it, had barely paid it any attention at all. This was primarily due to the fact that I had been breaking another rule by travelling at night, breaking curfew. Remember, I excused myself because The Great Reporter was in a hurry.

Within the week I was flat on my back on the floor of the Olustee Civic Center struggling not to breathe my last. The surprise wasn’t in getting sick, the surprise was that it hadn’t happened sooner. . Looking back I did everything but paint a bright red bullseye on my chest. It was inevitable that I caught panflu. My one relief is that I walked untravelled back roads and across empty fields; it is extremely unlikely I had the opportunity to infect anyone else.

My recovery is far from over. My full recovery may never occur. I’m exhibiting the symptoms of cardio pulmonary damage.

I am no longer on the road. I’m taping this segment for broadcast in the studio of WJCT 89.9 in Jacksonville, FL. Tomorrow I join a convoy heading to Washington, DC where I’ve been asked to become part of a team putting together a detailed history of the pandemic.

Though I would love to stay on the road and chronicle the Nation’s recovery – and I firmly believe the people of the US will recover – my health precludes doing this task justice. Others will be better able to give the job the energy and time it deserves.

My final thought, on this my final installment, is that people need to believe in their own recovery. Believe in it and participate in it. Don’t wait for the Calvary. It isn’t coming. Don’t wait for another to do something. It will never get done. Don’t wait for someone else to be the leader. You do something if it needs doing. You step up and be a leader. Have confidence. Have faith. Believe. Without this, without each person doing their level best, recovery is nothing but a failure waiting to happen. And if we want our children to have a future, failure is not an option.

This is Devon McLoud signing off.