George Pyle: To rescue ourselves from COVID-19, we can’t always get what we want

(NASA | AP) In this April 15, 1970 photo made available by NASA, a group of flight controllers gather around the console of Glenn S. Lunney, foreground seated, Shift 4 flight director, in the Mission Operations Control Room (MOCR) of Mission Control Center (MCC) in Houston. Their attention is drawn to a weather map of the proposed landing site in the Pacific Ocean. At this point, the Apollo 13 lunar landing mission had been canceled, and the problem-plagued Apollo 13 crew members were in trans-Earth trajectory attempting to bring their crippled spacecraft back home.

Fifty years ago this month, the damaged Apollo 13 was limping back toward earth. (If traveling at 3,500 meters per second can be called “limping.”) One of the many crucial improvisations the crew and Mission Control needed to make was to figure out how to turn the delicate electrical systems in the Odyssey command module back on.

All the switches and dials and alarms in the command module had been turned off to save power after a fuel cell in the spacecraft exploded. The three astronauts holed up in the lunar module Aquarius for most of the trip. But their lunar lifeboat was not built to survive earth reentry and had to be jettisoned.

Reactivating the command module was only possible if the astronauts could turn on just the right gadgets in exactly the right order. Otherwise they would blow out their systems and never make it home.

Sound familiar?

Leaders around the world, across the nation and in Utah are looking at how and when they might be able to restart their economic systems, but do it in a way that doesn’t short circuit the health of millions and our whole medical system.

The return-to-normal plan announced Friday by Utah Gov. Gary Herbert includes a checklist of steps and measures that would have to be ticked off before businesses can reopen and workers can return to their jobs.

Though it was less than encouraging that none of the state’s health and infectious disease specialists were present at the governor’s roll-out, that much of the talk was of economics rather than medicine, the plan correctly emphasizes that the meters that need to be read along the way are mostly metrics of public health.

The things that have to happen for the state’s economy to make a successful reentry include at least seven straight days of decreased hospitalizations, empty ICU beds and, most important of all, more testing. A lot more testing. More testing that finds, as counter-intuitive as it might seem, more infected people. Because only if you are finding more people carrying the COVID-19 virus do you know that you have been looking hard enough and in the right places.

There is reason to be concerned that, even with this plan in place, the public and business pressure to ease restrictions on public gatherings, retail activities and other parts of what used to be considered normal life will overwhelm even the most carefully considered plan.

In order for this plan to be successful, Herbert and his coronavirus task force will have to steel themselves to ignore the cries of those who are foolishly demanding that they be allowed to do whatever they want, no matter how many people they endanger in the process, because freedom.

But what about the freedom — the life, liberty and happiness — of those who will fall ill, and die, if the rules, recommendations and guidelines are ignored in the name of a distorted view of our rights. A sad view that is now shared — horribly, but not surprisingly — by the president of the United States who has been tweeting his encouragement of armed demonstrations against stay-at-home directives in various states. Mostly states with Democratic governors.

Anti-lockdown demonstrations such as those that took place in Salt Lake City Saturday only served to prove that not enough people can be trusted to do the right thing on their own.

In their performance in Saturday’s Global Citizen video concert in honor of those fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, The Rolling Stones selected precisely the right song.

“You can’t always get what you want,” Mick Jagger sang. “But if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.”

What we want is to go about our normal lives and business unconcerned about infecting ourselves or others with a deadly virus. What we need is to follow the guidance of the experts, stay at home as much as possible and make our way to a safe landing.

George Pyle, reading The New York Times at The Rose Establishment.

George Pyle, editorial page editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, often asks himself, “What would Tom Hanks do?”


Twitter, @debatestate