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The Main Thing Is the Main Thing

Where should you put your attention in a post-COVID world?

As we slowly stumble out of the pandemic fog and try to find our way in a post-COVID world, we need to be certain that the main thing is the main thing and that first things come first. We’ve had a breather for a year—a respite from the distractions of life—and the question now is what to put back in our lives or jettison forever.

Although this figure has been challenged, the attention span of each of us today is about 10 seconds. With iPhones and iPads and other electronic devices vying for our attention, we are battered, bludgeoned, and distracted by carnivorous digital dragons. We can become consumed and derailed by trivia and drama, a Facebook post, or live Instagram video.

So, to survive, to thrive, and to bring our gifts and skills to the community, we mere mortals on this speck we call Planet Earth need to stay the course, unplug, and pay attention to the details of life.

The Race Isn't Over

But just when we thought the race was won, just when we thought we could discard the masks and the hand sanitizer and emerge from our cloistered existence, the rules dramatically changed. Up until several months ago, the faint, flickering light at the end of the tunnel became a beacon of hope and promise. It still can be.

The number of new cases of COVID was decreasing, hospitalizations were decreasing, and fewer patients were requiring intensive care.

And now the bad news.

Multiple venues throughout the country dramatically and somewhat precipitously relaxed the proven public health measures of survival. Bubbles widened. There was a general perception, just ask your friends or neighbors, that if we complete the approved vaccination schedule we are free to throw off the shackles. Showtime! Let’s book that vacation, sign up for that cruise. Attend the home opener for major league baseball. Eat in a restaurant instead of lugging soggy fried chicken back home in to-go cartons. Head back to the gym, the bar, the office gathering as work-from-home coworkers started showing up once again.

Only the Paranoid Survive

Andy Grove, the former CEO of Intel, successfully orchestrated the transformative evolution of the company from a memory chip manufacturer to one of the most prominent and successful developers of microprocessors, which transformed our lives as we now know it. His book on leadership, Only the Paranoid Survive, was an acclaimed treatise focusing on business leaders with three clear directives:

  1. Tactical inflection points are inevitable. In every industry, there are dynamics that dramatically alter the delivery of a product or a service. In medicine, the evolution of the MRI scanner is one example after which everything changed in the delivery of healthcare. Likewise, COVID-19 was an inflection point that forever changed the delivery of healthcare.

  2. Distinguish signal from noise. Seek insights from the front-line workers, the boots on the ground, the “people on the line” but especially from customers and consumers.

  3. Act with conviction. Grove said, “Most companies do not die because they are wrong. The greatest danger is standing still.”

We get it. Not rocket science but what does this have to do with us and COVID?

Although we’re not wiping off groceries anymore, and we’re getting vaccinated, we still must recognize we are still in a pandemic (the inflection point). We must continue to be aware of the risks of virus transmission (distinguish the signal from the noise). Regardless of your vaccination status, you remain at risk because no vaccine is 100% effective. So act with conviction in the months ahead.

COVID has taken a profound psychiatric, emotional, and neurologic toll on us all. We either fear getting infected or we became ill with COVID and then survived (although, sadly, many have not survived). A recent review in a prestigious medical journal, The Lancet, analyzed the track record of approximately a quarter of a million COVID survivors. About a third have profound and lingering complications from COVID within six months of diagnosis. COVID survivors now live in a never-never land with shortness of breath, draining fatigue, a brain fog in which simple calculations and tasks cannot be safely done, and an overwhelming feeling of ill health. And the long-term consequences are unclear.

Smart Game Plan for the Paranoid Among Us

Like Grove suggested, we need to stay reasonably paranoid and shift the odds in our favor. What do the paranoid do to go the distance?

  • Get vaccinated. This is a no-brainer, no discussion needed.

  • Be street smart. Make that hand sanitizer and mask part of your survival backpack just like the watch, the wallet, and the cell phone.

  • Is that discretionary trip to a face-to-face meeting with work colleagues worth it? Plan, orchestrate, avoid the tyranny of the impulsive. In a small group of colleagues and outside visitors, you don’t know their vaccination status. Do you follow your instincts and respectfully decline, or do you roll the dice and hope all goes well? When your health is involved, rolling the dice is not an appealing investment.

  • Avoid unmasked people in your home. A repair professional is scheduled for some routine home maintenance. The van is in the driveway as expected, and the technician is right on time. Ding dong. You do not know his vaccination status, but you do know he did not have a mask. You don’t wear a mask either. This is a recipe to become infected.

  • Be aware of those around you and their habits. A quick trip to a convenience store could be deadly. A clerk behind the counter was engaging, asked if you needed anything else, and then you realized that she was wearing a “neck-up” gaiter, not a real mask. These offer very little protection from COVID compared with approved masks.

  • Don’t let your guard down. A local church community has been fanatical about social distancing, masks are mandatory, hand sanitizers are readily available. Church officiants wear masks throughout the service. But in the parking lot, individuals remove their masks and are quietly congregating separated by a few feet. Wrong.

  • Try to conduct business by email or phone. A routine trip to the motor vehicle licensing office is not the highlight of the week. Quietly standing in line you notice that several individuals in line are wearing their masks below their nose (or, worse yet, under their chin). This puts everyone in line at risk.

  • Have a plan. At the home opener of a recent major league baseball game a sellout crowd attended. Masks were “mandated,” but many patrons were not wearing them. Either move away, if possible, or leave.

  • Be aware. A quick visit to a big box store during off hours is probably a very low risk situation. But when a mask on an employee dangles from one ear, be comfortable that you have lowered the risk by wearing your mask appropriately.

Andy Grove was right on the money especially with the following: “Do not let success breed contentment. And do not let contentment bear fruit to complacency. Only the paranoid survive.”

There are some dimensions of our world over which we have no control. Some events are simply random and unpredictable. But when it comes to COVID, every day is the championship, and should you become infected, the consequences can be devastating.

[Photo credit: Stefano Pollio, Unsplash]



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