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Our Government and the Pandemic

We’ve talked a lot about how the pandemic has affected us, mentally, physically and financially. In our recent Medicare Today/ Seniors Speak Out poll we saw that our healthcare providers had a favorable rating (54% said the healthcare providers performed better than expected) as opposed to the government where only 16% thought they performed betterthan expected. As many states are beginning to open up, I thought it would be beneficial to look at what our government has done so far and the affect it has had on us so far.

There’s been a lot of discussion as to whether the President handled the pandemic correctly or not. It continues to be difficult to separate the truth from the political rhetoric. Did he take the pandemic seriously at the beginning? Did we shut down too early or too late?  Did he take power away from the states or gave them too much power to decide how their state was going to react? It may take years to analyze what actually happened and which actions were right and which were wrong. What we can talk about is what affects the Federal and State policies concerning the COVID-19 pandemic had on older Americans.

Most of us got a stimulus and/or an unemployment check from the government. We hope that the small business loans and Paycheck Protection Program money will help those who were furloughed or laid off. It seemed that every discussion I had with other seniors at some point turned to how our kids’ and grandkids’ employment was affected. It seemed that the government was trying to keep our economy going until it could be opened up again. Finances remain at the top of every discussion concerning the pandemic, but it has also affected us in other ways.

As you might remember the shutdown caught many by surprise. Some seniors were caught on cruise ships and in foreign countries and in many instances had a very difficult time getting back home. Some states even had travel restrictions that hindered travel between certain states. Each state has responded differently as to when and for how long to institute the shutdown of commercial businesses. What this meant for many seniors was the separation from their loved ones and the disruption of their routines. I did notice something else, the further splintering of America. It seemed that rather than pulling together, we spent a great deal of time and effort pointing fingers. At a time when we should have been uniting against a common foe, the pandemic, we talked about who to blame for its spread and who to listen to. It seemed hard to know who to believe. It was very unsettling.

While each of our lives was affected in different ways I want to focus on two aspects of the pandemic that I think will have long term consequences if we don’t address them; the situation at long term care facilities and the ways our government entities communicate with us.

It was quickly ascertained that the people who were most vulnerable to dying from the virus were people over 65. This was due to the fact that this population had more of the other conditions that made them vulnerable, like lung problems, diabetes and other medical conditions that inhibited their bodies from fighting the virus. It should have been very evident that people over 65 and in close quarters at long term care facilities had more of a chance of catching the virus and having poor outcomes.

I think this was the time and place for the government to step in and get masks and other healthcare support to these people as quick as possible. The final statistics will reveal how many seniors died in long term care facilities. There were certainly some facilities that didn’t have a plan in place or didn’t react as they should. Since then state and federal governments have stepped in to assure better protections. When the pandemic is contained and we can reflect on what changes need to be made, the regulations and avenues of support available for long term care facilities in times of crisis need to be reviewed and strengthened.

Our access to information has exploded over the last few years. More seniors found out how to use Zoom in the last few months than anyone could have ever predicted. We had access 24 hours a day to the 15-minute news cycle which, you’d think, would have kept us informed and reassured. Instead we began to distrust institutions that we used to have confidence in. There was misinformation disseminated by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and the WHO (World Health Organization) has become suspect due to the influence of China in its pandemic recommendations. Dr. Fauci, an expert at the NIH (National Institutes of Health) since 1984, garnered some trust in the daily briefings that were aired on TV, but he was often contradicted by the administration. The result is we had all this information and didn’t have any trust that it was accurate. One of the basic duties of government is to offer reassurance in times of crisis. In my estimation, we didn’t have this reassurance at a time when we needed it most. For seniors, trapped in their homes without close personal contact with their loved ones, this was unsettling. Why is it that more Americans trust the Joe Rogan podcast more than the CDC, the government agency that is supposedly the most informed about pandemics? The pandemic has exposed a vacuum in trust that supersedes this health emergency and may prove to be the biggest problem our nation will face once the pandemic is over.

Our government shouldn’t be responsible for rescuing us from every problem. Our government should be the rallying voice and our most trusted supporter that helps us rescue ourselves. Whether it’s ensuring that long term care facilities are able to effectively take care of those that are the most frail or being a trusted source of accurate information to help us make informed decisions about our lives, the government of the United States of America must somehow regain our trust. This pandemic will have profound impacts on our lives for years to come. I wish I had all the answers to the problems that this pandemic exposed. What I do know is that we will get through this. We are a great country and we have the ability to fix our problems. In the meantime, stay safe and have joy.