by Roger C. Kostmayer

Recent surveys show that Key West citizens are concerned about the biggest cruise ships with the worst health, safety, and environmental violations.  The Key West Committee for Safer, Cleaner Ships was formed, and it filed referenda with the city to put three protective limits on cruise ships.  Read more

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by Roger C. Kostmayer In the midst of a deadly and highly contagious epidemic, one unlike any we have seen in our lifetime, the President of the United States wants to overrule our Constitution and give himself, and all future Presidents, what he calls “total authority” over States’ decisions about when to reopen their economies […]

by Susan Anderson, Precinct #29 Captain, Key Largo

As Keys Democrats, our goal is clear: we want to turn the Florida Keys BLUE.  But the stark reality is that we cannot expand our party membership without first becoming more visible in our community. Read more

This is a statement from an epidemiologist at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center.

Hey everybody, as an infectious disease epidemiologist, at this point I feel morally obligated to provide some information on what we are seeing from a transmission dynamic perspective and how they apply to the social distancing measures. Like any good scientist I have noticed two things that are either not articulated or not present in the “literature” of social media.
Specifically, I want to make two aspects of these measures very clear and unambiguous.

First, we are in the very infancy of this epidemic’s trajectory. That means even with these measures we will see cases and deaths continue to rise globally, nationally, and in our own communities in the coming weeks. Our hospitals will be overwhelmed, and people will die who didn’t have to. This may lead some people to think that the social distancing measures are not working. They are. They may feel futile. They aren’t. You will feel discouraged. You should. This is normal in chaos. But this is also normal epidemic trajectory. Stay calm. This enemy that we are facing is very good at what it does; we are not failing. We need everyone to hold the line as the epidemic inevitably gets worse. This is not my opinion; this is the unforgiving math of epidemics for which I and my colleagues have dedicated our lives to understanding with great nuance, and this disease is no exception. We know what will happen; I want to help the community brace for this impact. Stay strong and with solidarity knowing with absolute certainty that what you are doing is saving lives, even as people begin getting sick and dying. You may feel like giving in. Don’t.

Second, study after study demonstrates that even if there is only a little bit of connection between groups (i.e. social dinners, playdates/playgrounds, etc.), the epidemic trajectory isn’t much different than if there was no measure in place. Although social distancing measures have been (at least temporarily) well-received, there is an obvious-but-overlooked phenomenon when considering groups (i.e. families) in transmission dynamics. While social distancing decreases contact with members of society, it of course increases your contacts with group (i.e. family) members. This small and obvious fact has surprisingly profound implications on disease transmission dynamics. The same underlying fundamentals of disease transmission apply, and the result is that the community is left with all of the social and economic disruption but very little public health benefit. You should perceive your entire family to function as a single individual unit; if one person puts themselves at risk, everyone in the unit is at risk. Seemingly small social chains get large and complex with alarming speed. If your son visits his girlfriend, and you later sneak over for coffee with a neighbor, your neighbor is now connected to the infected office worker that your son’s girlfriend’s mother shook hands with.

This sounds silly. It’s not. This is not a joke or a hypothetical. We as epidemiologists see it borne out in the data time and time again and no one listens. Conversely, any break in that chain breaks disease transmission along that chain. In contrast to hand-washing and other personal measures, social distancing measures are not about individuals, they are about societies working in unison. These measures also take a long time to see the results. It is hard (even for me) to conceptualize how “one quick little get together” can undermine the entire framework of a public health intervention, but it does. I promise you it does. I promise. I promise. I promise. You can’t cheat it. People are already itching to cheat on the social distancing precautions just a “little”- a playdate, a haircut, or picking up a needless item at the store, etc. From a transmission dynamics standpoint, this very quickly recreates a highly connected social network that undermines all of the work the community has done so far. Until we get a viable vaccine this unprecedented outbreak will not be overcome in grand, sweeping gesture, rather only by the collection of individual choices our community makes in the coming months. This virus is unforgiving to unwise choices.

My goal in writing this is to prevent communities from getting “sucker-punched” by what the epidemiological community knows will happen in the coming weeks. It will be easy to be drawn to the idea that what we are doing isn’t working and become paralyzed by fear, or to “cheat” a little bit in the coming weeks. By knowing what to expect, and knowing the importance of maintaining these measures, my hope is to encourage continued community spirit, strategizing, and action to persevere in this time of uncertainty.

by Debra Walker, State Committeewoman for Monroe County, and Upper Keys co-chair

My grandmother Rebecca Mitchell Campbell died of the Spanish flu one hundred years ago. The echoes of it still reverberate across the generations through stories told and retold in my childhood. My mom heard them from the grandmothers who raised her. A toddler at the time, she had no memory of the great influenza, nor of the mother who was lost to it, however, it was foundational to her sense of self throughout her life. She longed for a family of her own, joyously adopting me after ten years of marriage without children. She cherished the role of mother, and often infused conversation with accounts of the strict disciplinary styles of her grandmothers, who cared for her in turn, but lacked warmth and enthusiasm for the task. Grandma “Ma” Mitchell was exhausted after bearing twelve children, and raising six to adulthood, only to see Rebecca lost to flu. Grandmother Campbell was distant, and resented the religious practices (different protestant denominations) Ma taught her grandkids; thus they got retrained regularly, and were “both sprinkled and dunked,” a reference to baptism practices. When my mother turned nine, my grandfather moved the family to a city in another state, where he found a factory job. The story Mom told most frequently was about the long drive to her new home; the youngest, she sat on a board placed between the seats of a Model T Ford. Distant from the extended family, the four children raised themselves after that while my granddad worked to support them; they remained close throughout their lives.

The plague that rewrote my mother’s life story probably started in Haskell County, Kansas around January 1918. The first victims of “lagrippe” were treated by a local doctor, who reported them to public health authorities as required. While the flu raged through Haskell County, sickening dozens, a young soldier visited his Haskell County home, then returned to base at Ft. Riley, Kansas, where the flu appeared in March 1918. Shortly after being infected, Ft. Riley soldiers were shipped to bases in Europe to join in the Great War. The close quarters of camp life permitted the virus to mutate rapidly, and by May, it had become deadly. The new plague was dubbed the Spanish Flu, which is a misnomer. Kansas flu is more accurate, and some say, pig farming was the vehicle for the jump to humans in that case.

By early 1920, the pandemic wave had passed around the world several times, mutating with each pass. When Rebecca heard of a flu-infected family down the road with no one to care for them, she went to nurse them. She had probably survived prior waves of the flu, and perhaps she thought she was already immune. Not meaning to, she brought influenza home to the Campbell household, where all were infected and still in their beds, unable to attend the funeral, when Rebecca died on February 20, 1920.

The Spanish flu took the young and strong first because the elderly had some residual immunity to it from a prior epidemic. In contrast, COVID-19 is taking aim at our elderly and immune-compromised communities. There are probably lots of reasons for this, including modern sanitizing procedures that limit our exposure to potential pathogens that would boost herd immunity. Epidemiologists have suggested that pandemics happen every 80-100 years precisely because herd immunity to a particular pathogen can disappear with a complete population replacement.

Where does this story of the Great Influenza leave us today? As an archaeologist with a long-term, big-picture perspective, I submit the following rather random observations, drawn from a variety of sources:

  1. 2020 is the defining year in our lives. According to Facebook, Gen-C will be the name given to kids born in 2020 and beyond.
  2. The question of whether we live in a globally-connected world has been answered.
  3. Science doesn’t care whether you believe in it or not.
  4. We never give our ancestors enough credit for getting things done.
  5. All innovation builds on the heavy lifting of our ancestors.
  6. The inertia associated with routine behavior is very difficult to redirect.
  7. Leadership in a pandemic age must draw on our collective human experience: the best science, the best math, and the best historical narrative that we can muster.
  8. Leadership is transformational in a time of crisis, either for the collective good, or not so much.
  9. Despite reports to the contrary from our political rivals, there is such a thing as a public good; it is grounded in good public health policy.
  10. All politics is still local, so get busy.

If I am blessed to remain healthy in this dark time, I will expand on some of these points over the next couple of months, mostly because I can’t concentrate on other writing projects, and the process is cathartic.

If you remain healthy, I hope to read here what you are thinking about our current calamity, and what you think our proper course of political action should be. Let’s start a conversation here about the public good, about how we can work together while apart, and about what action we can take now and in the near future.

Effective political action involves aligning disparate interests in a common cause, establishing a clear, shared vision of a better future, and identifying the strategic actions needed to close the gap and move from the unprecedented present to the unknowable future. Let’s get to work on it today.

Finally, let’s say a collective thank you to the heroes of our time, those on the front lines of local government, healthcare, and essential services. If we remain healthy or successfully recover from the 2020 plague, it will be because of them.

To read more about the last pandemic, I suggest:

The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History, by historian John M. Barry (2004), a source that informed this blogpost.

You might also like:

The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance by Pulitzer prize winning journalist Laurie Garrett (1994).

The Viral Storm: The Dawn of a New Pandemic Age, by microbiologist Nathan Wolfe (2011).