What the “I-told-you-so” experts got wrong about the pandemic

“We told you there’d be a pandemic and you didn’t listen to us!” I’m a bit sour after hearing more than a handful of our public health experts say this again and again, even now.

So I relish this opportunity to register my own “I told you so!” to the same experts. “I’m now telling you you’ve been talking to the wrong people all along!”

–It’s clear that the people who should have been informed about the dangers of a pandemic were not among the people addressed by these experts. I have in mind the professionals who operate in real time our critical infrastructures, like water, electricity, telecommunications and transportation. No one told those men and women in the control rooms and out in the field that Covid would wreak such havoc as it did in systems mandated to be so reliable.

From our interviews in Oregon and Washington State, it’s obvious no one predicted the actual, mega-impacts and interruptions that Covid has had on the real-time operations of essential infrastructures, there or beyond. You probably already know essential workers were sent home to work offsite. Less known perhaps is the fact that those on-site had to get vaccinated, and of course some very experienced personnel left. Far less appreciated, Covid put a brake on major infrastructure investment, improvement and management activities. Said one logistic manager of his state’s response, “All [Covid-19] planning happened on the fly, we were building the plane as it moved, we’d never seen anything like this.”

“Covid was a wake-up call,” we were told again and again by our interviewees, not something you’d expect to hear had the case actually been: “We told you there’d be a pandemic and you didn’t listen to us!”

–The fact of the matter is experts were talking to the wrong decisionmakers. Too many of Covid experts seem to operate under two misleading beliefs: their public role is to convince key politicians and officials about what to do, even if privately they know the real problem is bad politics, driven by too much following-the-dollar, and run by jerks.

Both beliefs are naive in a pandemic world. We wouldn’t have an economy, we wouldn’t have markets, if it weren’t for electricity, water, telecoms and transportation being reliable. Yet to my knowledge the professionals responsible for real-time operations in the infrastructures were never specifically warned, were never specifically talked to, and certainly never had a chance to listen to our pandemic experts, intent as they were on convincing the engorged bladder of a then-president.

–So: Pandemic experts, the next time around it’s you who are going to fail because those who didn’t listen were those you didn’t care to know, let alone talk to.

2 thoughts on “What the “I-told-you-so” experts got wrong about the pandemic

  1. I’d love to see you expand on this to say more about what should’ve been said to these folks that wasn’t. Or was it just that there needed to be more targeted outreach? Or that it needed to happen sooner (a triage of information dissemination even if it held some risk of being wrong by being early)?

    I buy the vulnerability and importance arguments, but it would helpful to say more about what an alternate approach would look like.

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    1. Thanks for the opportunity to expand my remarks.

      To be honest, I don’t know what the pandemic experts should have said by way of specifics to critical infrastructure professionals.

      I suspect, however, that had the “no-one-listens-to us” consulted with their own public health professionals, particularly those who work with the 1000’s of Health and Safety units in these critical infrastructures, they would have come up with some more effective, on-point messaging re: Covid and its specific service impacts on infrastructures, and by extension, on the rest of us.

      Please note, and I don’t want to make you defensive here, that to ask, “What would pandemic experts have said by way of more effective messaging to key critical infrastructure personnel?” is to reflect how siloed and stove-piped public health has become–well beyond the issues of medical specialization–with respect to advising on the economy and society.

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