Friday, August 28, 2020

Teachers union is right about masks


Last week, with less than two weeks to spare before the school year begins, New York State United Teachers upset the apple cart by calling on the state to update school reopening guidelines to make mandatory the wearing of masks at all times indoors during the school day, except for appropriate break periods and in cases of medical accommodation.


That eleventh-hour request was a shocker to health officials, school leaders and parents.


It wasn’t to me. I was more shocked that the Department of Health and individual districts hadn’t already gone down that path weeks ago. Continuous mask use is an appropriate control in a variety of settings.


When I re-opened my company during a period of essential manufacturing in May, there really weren’t any detailed guidelines available to businesses. Those multi-page plans produced by the state were still weeks away. So, heading into re-opening I spent hours, days and weeks pondering the wide variety of potential exposures in the workplace and I made my own plans to keep COVID at bay.  


Paramount in my strategy was the constant use of masks. At the time, as now, the state and federal suggestions were to wear masks whenever social distancing is not possible. But, that’s just a guideline. As with every health and safety standard you have to be better than the minimum. You have to know your people and processes and adjust accordingly.


I took it one step further because social distancing can change at a moment’s notice in a manufacturing environment. An inspector or technician could pass through or enter a coworker’s workstation. I thought it would be too risky to assume that everyone would remember to raise their masks in such situations, especially when they were in the middle of doing their jobs.


I also understood that human beings are social creatures -- after weeks of being away from friends it was certain everyone would excitedly want to chat or forget that they weren’t at home where masks were never worn. Could I count on them to remember to put the mask up when socializing? Probably not.


Those reasons – and more – made all-day mask use an easy sell for me.


So, if I expected adults to not be mask compliant under part-time use of the personal protective equipment, how are we as a society thinking children would do any better?


These students aren’t factory workers who come from a world in which they live and breathe safety protocols (lockout/tag-out, authorized and trained use of equipment, material safety sheets)…they are kids who have to be told -- and scolded -- about safety often at home and in school (don’t climb that, don’t touch this, don’t run, look both ways). Given their narrow and growing understanding of personal and collective safety it’s asking way too much for them to understand the nuances of social distancing and when masks go up and when they come down.


And, for reasons very similar to my workplace, kids should be wearing masks at all time.


Like the factory floor, classrooms aren’t truly static, though they may appear to be. They are flowing. Students are working on projects. They work together. Children walk through others’ space en route to the bathroom, board, pencil sharpener, and more. You can’t expect them all to react and outfit themselves whenever social distancing collapses.  


Just like adults, children and teens are social creatures, too. Any parent can attest that they are more social than we are. They want and need to talk. They want to engage in playful behavior, maybe even a little roughhousing. They want undivided attention, so they get in others’ personal space. They are excitable and excited. In the urge to interact, remembering to activate a face covering is the furthest thing from their mind.


And, we have to remember they’re not us when it comes to hygiene – they’re a bunch of “snot-nosed kids”. There’s a reason why schools are breeding grounds for cold and flu. Many youngsters don’t have a firm understanding of covering their mouths when sneezing or couching. In an enclosed classroom you don’t want unprotected mouths and noses projecting germs into the air. Cover their faces at all times and you minimize COVID…and those other ailments which, in “normal” times are bothersome enough but in today’s world would initiate a litany of COVID tests and protocols due to their similar symptoms.  


Take it from someone who works in a masked world and wears one 10 to 11 hours a day: It’s not torture. Even my coworkers in the factory have no qualms about it in a hot, fast-paced environment. You quickly get used to wearing one. It doesn’t hurt you. It helps you and, just as importantly, it helps others.


So, let’s listen to the teachers union. Kids, teachers and staff all need – and deserve -- to be kept safe and healthy...wearing a masks is, undoubtedly, the simplest, cheapest and most-effective protective means to ensure that and keep COVID at bay.


From the 31 August 2020 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News

Friday, August 21, 2020

Do we really know the political class?


If you ever saw the 1957 film “a Face in the Crowd,” it was probably the only time in your life that you remember hating Andy Griffith (or at least the character he played).


In that classic piece of cinema Griffith plays Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes, a hateful, lecherous drifter who somehow manages to manipulate television and mass media to bring himself fame as a sort of likeable everyman. He uses those tools and skills to help a senator rise in the presidential polls. Rhodes’ world falls apart once everyone realizes just who he is after his words about the ignorance of his fans (basically, all of America) inadvertently leak out during a live broadcast.


The film was groundbreaking for its time because the television medium was still relatively new yet somehow the film’s writers knew that mass media would be abused by those who could deliver messages with charisma and panache that would make the populace believe that the untrue was reality.


The message of “a Face in the Crowd” remains relevant to this day.


Here it is, over 60 years later, and we are still living in a world of lies foretold by that movie.


There are countless Larry Rhodeses out there, chasing office, holding office and trying to run our country, and, if not, using their star power to advance those who are, projecting an image that is anything but who they actually are. The masses see the lovable version of Rhodes, not the angry, drunken, disgusting Rhodes that was behind the cameras. 


One needs only to catch a few of the key speeches at the Republican and Democratic conventions to see that in practice.


Depending on what side of the aisle you are on, you likely walked away from those thinking that “your guy” or “your gal” ruled the day.


But think about it, just who really is “your guy” or “your gal?”


It’s definitely not who you saw at the podium or on the computer screen.


Almost all of those speeches were written by other people…then rewritten, rehased, rehearsed, and recycled.


What you watched was performance art. Every single speaker, whether it was a senator, a governor, a presidential candidate or a First-Partner-to-be was an actor delivering lines prepared for them by professional writers.


Just who is the real person? Only the speaker and his or her closest family and friends know that, which is unfortunate given the enormity of the offices we elect people for.


I pine for the good old days when real leaders wrote their own messages.


Some make the claim that they don’t have time in this busy day and age.


Really? Two of our greatest presidents -- Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt -- wrote all of their own speeches. They were incredibly busy – Lincoln was trying to keep the country from being torn apart while Roosevelt was fighting corruption and reforming how we see and do things. They succeeded in saving America and making it better by speaking from the heart, sharing their thoughts, and actually living every word they said.


People followed them and believed in their causes because they knew those men, their integrity, and their goals.


The best way to know a man or woman is to get to the heart of their writings, as its shows them at their most introspective, most emotional, most intellectual and most personal.


But, that seems so quaint now. We’ve been robbed of that connection since the days of Warren Harding, the first president to employ a speechwriter. We don’t know who the political class are anymore, because the polished image we’ve been fed is there to sell a party or an idea, to garner attention, and attract votes and dollars -- not to lead and definitely not to empower.


Now, it’s par for the course that speeches, newsletters and letters-to-the-editor utilized by state and federal officials come from the pens – and minds -- of others, properly vetted to dispense the appropriate amount of snake oil and salesmanship. Hit all the key talking points. Stay on message. Stay true to party over people.


Unfortunately, and especially at the highest levels, the political system is so effective at brainwashing that most voters are incapable of discerning fact from fiction, the person from the myth when it comes to political speeches and the projection of the (alleged) persona.


We are led to believe that that which we hear and see is reality, when in truth, it’s a fa├žade.


It’s Hollywood at its finest.


There’s little bit of Lonesome Rhodes in every face in the crowd. 



From the 24 August 2020 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News