Brugger: We Can’t Stop Thinking About the World
COMMUNITY COLUMNIST

Brugger: We Can’t Stop Thinking About the World

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Lost in the announcement of a formal impeachment inquiry concerning President Trump’s fitness for office; his speech to the United Nations was more of a worry to me than anything else. He spoke in favor of women’s empowerment and religious freedom. Even his warning to immigrants who plan to enter our country without permission, while unusual for the forum, could be called an attempt to avert suffering the indignities of our current border situation. While I might find fault with parts of these policies, my gravest concern was his denouncement of Globalism and his call for more worldwide Nationalism.

There are three important reasons why his words are dangerous. Ending any attempt to see the world as interconnected globally is unrealistic. Extreme nationalism was at the root of two world wars in the 20th century. Finally, his words strengthen Russia’s, perhaps even China’s, ambitions to become the leader of pseudo-democratic nations ruled by Oligarchies.

We cannot turn back time to the place where events in other nations had no effect on the United States. Communication and transportation opportunities ended that possibility at the turn of the last century. Not only trade, but climate conditions and political upheavals create conditions that impact our lives. Idaho has spent at least two decades courting markets for our agricultural and other products overseas. The President talked about Micron’s problems with China’s use of their proprietary technology and intellectual property. How can that possibly be mitigated without thinking globally? We cannot elect government officials who engage in wishful thinking and offer false promises to our citizens.

The President’s call for countries to consider the needs and cultural norms of their people before anything else is empty rhetoric. First, any country which has even a small amount of democratic thinking in their government cannot help but think of their voters first. Dictatorships which are seen to ignore the needs of their people must deal with unrest and, eventually, ouster from power. Venezuela, which the president mentioned specifically, is a good example. While promising a socialist utopia where their oil revenue would end poverty for everyone, the government became a kleptocracy where economic resources disappeared from the public treasury.

Extreme Nationalism is an old political ploy. A Nationalist convinces whoever is considered the “us” that “they” are the enemy. Fear of other’s actions is the bond that holds disparate interests together. The superiority of the “us” allows governments to act belligerently towards each other and becomes the reason for war and alliances— “The enemy of my enemy is my friend”. The United Nations which heard the President’s speech was established to encourage alliance on friendship and mutual interests rather than animosity. Nationalism has proved time and again to produce national turmoil and, often, violence. The constitution’s goal, as noted in part in the preamble, is “to insure domestic Tranquility”. Nationalism should not be a part of our nation’s strategy.

Putin would like to weaken, or even destroy, our representative democracy for two reasons. The first is that there are many people in Russia who are working to strengthen a democratic form of government. He has spent some of the nation’s treasure in thwarting them. The second reason is just as important to Putin’s view of Russia’s place in the world. The European Union, NATO, and many members of the G-20 oppose Russia’s expansionist agenda for the Ukraine and the Balkans. He is also militarizing Siberia in anticipation of climate change melting the ice in the artic sea and establishing a trade route which will include access to oil deposits they seek to claim.

Both the last two concerns also call into question the intents and purposes of the President’s Oath of Office. Nationalism as a policy goes against the Constitution, and his tacit agreement to many of Russia’s aims could be construed as giving aid and comfort to an enemy. At the very least, Russia is not an ally. This is all a subject for another time.

Linda Brugger retired from the Air Force and is a former chairwoman of the Twin Falls County Democrats.

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Small news organizations in rural states aren’t often on the front line of broad public service journalism, but times are changing and one-or-two person shops can make a lot of difference in public awareness of issues if things come together.

A small outbreak of coronavirus at a Fry Foods plant in Weiser gives a prime example of the importance of testing for COVID-19. More than that, it represents a warning shot across the bow of potential pitfalls if we don’t reopen our economy the right way.

As we tiptoe through Stage 2 of Gov. Brad Little’s phased reopening plan and approach a more robust Stage 3, it’s going to become even more important that we take the necessary steps to prevent future outbreaks.

And there will be future outbreaks.

The fact remains that the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is still out there. It’s ready to strike again, and without a vaccine, it remains a potentially destructive and fatal disease.

Aggressive and quick testing remains one of the key elements — perhaps the most important element — of controlling outbreaks at this point.

Fry Foods offers an early case study.

The Weiser food processing plant employs 260 people to make onion rings and other food products. It shut down earlier this month when at least seven employees tested positive for the coronavirus.

Fry Foods initially didn’t test all 260 employees at the Weiser facility — only the 50 or 60 who likely came in contact with the employees who tested positive. Other employees were able to get tested on their own.

The Idaho Bureau of Laboratories (state run-laboratories) tested all that they had the capacity to do in one day, according to Kelly Petroff, director of communications for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. The state lab can do about has a testing capacity of approximately 200 tests per day.

“We are not prepared to handle this,” Doug Wold, human resources manager for Fry Foods, told the Idaho Statesman, referring to the lack of coordinated response. “If you don’t have an employer who’s willing to be proactive, we’re just going to fail.”

Fortunately, Crush the Curve Idaho, a private, business-led initiative established during the outbreak to increase testing, stepped in and tested every employee at Fry Foods.

By Tuesday of this week, 20 employees — about 8% of the plant’s workforce — had tested positive for the coronavirus, along with at least two of their family members. Nearly all were asymptomatic.

RAPID-RESPONSE TESTING

That’s what needs to happen: rapid-response testing. If you have an outbreak at your workplace, get everyone tested. For those who test positive, keep them home and isolated. For those who test negative, they can keep on working and you’re back in business.

When the outbreak hit Fry Foods, company officials made the decision to shut the plant down.

Without adequate testing, that’s unfortunately the right thing to do. Without testing, you have no idea whether you have seven infected employees, 70 or 270.

We applaud Fry Foods company officials for making the tough call to shut down, even though they were given the green light by the Southwest District Health Department to resume operations.

Coronavirus is stealthy. A person can carry coronavirus longer without symptoms, potentially spreading to others unwittingly. Some people who carry coronavirus have no symptoms at all.

We are encouraged that Crush the Curve Idaho stepped up and stepped in here.

But Idaho needs a more concerted and organized plan to do rapid-response testing.

We are a fragmented health system. Health providers include Saint Alphonsus, St. Luke’s, Primary Health, Saltzer, among others. Then think about all the entities who pay for health care: Blue Cross of Idaho, Regence BlueShield, PacificSource, SelectHealth, etc. Throw in Medicare, Medicaid and those who are uninsured.

Even our own government health management system is fragmented, with the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare and seven independent health districts not operated by the state.

And, in the case of Fry Foods, situated in a city bordering Oregon, workers were from two states.

NO COORIDINATED EFFORTS

No wonder Fry Foods officials were at a loss for where to turn for help. Without some sort of coordinated effort to test all employees and somehow pay for those tests, shutting down the plant was the best option.

It’s worth noting that the Fry Foods employee who initially had coronavirus was at a family gathering of a larger number than outlined in the governor’s reopening plan and was with visitors from out of state, two violations of the governor’s guidelines. That’s why we have the guidelines, and that’s why it’s important to follow the guidelines. Otherwise, this is what you get: an outbreak that shuts down an entire food manufacturing plant.

Unfortunately, shutting down operations every time there’s an outbreak is not going to get the job done.

And there will be more outbreaks as we reopen our economy, reopen factories and workplaces.

Idaho has a lot to be optimistic about, and we have a golden opportunity to lead the nation in reopening our economy in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. We have had relatively few cases (around 2,300) and few deaths (77). Our early efforts to shut down parts of our social interactions and Little’s quick call to issue a statewide stay-home order clearly have paid off. Idahoans’ adherence to the stay-home order has helped to flatten the curve and control the number of new cases. Residents and businesses, alike, have done their part to make this happen.

Our hope is that Idaho can chug along through the stages of reopening. Our fear is that if we don’t do this the right way, we’ll have a surge and we’ll be back to a statewide stay-home order. Nobody wants that.

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