Forsyth: A Racial Cleaning in Georgia

I learn something new about Georgia everyday. This time, how the people of Forsyth county displaced 1,000 black families (1912) and later buried it with a lake.

Or how several counties in Georgia, mostly North Georgia, only reported 1-4 “Negroes” (n.b. they never appeared in any actual reporting or interview) (1968)

Or how when some white citizens, joined by Black Civil Rights leaders, sought recognition of the MLK, Jr holiday, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation came in to arrest counter protesters that threw bottles, rocks, and racial slurs at the peacefully gathering demonstrators (1987). These concerned Caucasions brought Christianity-inspired signs like “Racial Purity in Forsyth County” and “Sickle Cell Anemia—the Great White Hope.” 

Forsyth County on Jan. 24, 1987.John Blanding/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

It was these events that would later lead to the rise of David Dukes, the most famous current American white supremacists.

You can take a listen to this 2016 radio interview on NPR.

Or, you can read the book Blood at the Root.

The Fidgety Fiddle Leaf Fig Challenge

For over 8 years now, I have been a member of a global entrepreneurs’ group called Entrepreneurs’ Organization. One of the key benefits of this 15,000-member strong organization is a mastermind group called Forum. My Forum is called True North, which consists of 7 Atlanta-based entrepreneurs. I rarely walk away from our monthly meeting without a new perspective or at least feeling inspired by these powerful peers. Our collective values — be curious, be excellent, be real — guide us as we each seek our own true north:

Our mission is to pursue our individual paths of greatness by being true to ourselves and continually learning from and about one another.

One of the members of the True North Forum — Dominque Love, founder of the Atlanta Food and Wine Festival — challenged the group of entrepreneurs to the Fiddle Leaf Fig Challenge. The challenge is to see how you respond when given this challenge. Will you create a growth plan? Will you seek expert guidance? What will your growing goals be? What will you do when growing doesn’t go your way? Will you course-correct? And if so, how?

At first, I wasn’t interested in participating in this challenge at all. My business has been struggling as a result of the pandemic, my family is home every day with virtual work and school, and I’ve focused already on recovering my health and fitness as it is the worst it has ever been in my 41-year life. I’ve got bigger problems than some finnicky fig plant that apparently isn’t even going to grow figs if grown indoors! But then the idea “grew” on me. So I decided to go all-in on this challenge, and make it part of my mid-life pivot in business, health, and now flora.

My business of two decades — SHERPA Global — has been wonderfully successful. While the first decade was a constant challenge, the last decade was successful for everyone involved. But that success has run its course. My team and I are tired of providing “guns for hire” professional web development services. Too often our ideas are shot down because they don’t line up with corporate budgets, or decade-long relationships can suddenly end when a new VP is hired. We were tired of hunting for business and instead wanted to focus on building something of value, something to call our own; we wanted to create our own web software product.

Step one — define the problem.

Many skip this step and instead focus on the goal, or even the how. But that’s not my style. I first want to know — what is a problem that needs to be solved? What are the constraints of the challenge? For me, the problem I’m trying to solve is creating something meaningful to me, and ultimately to others.

And so it is — our “true north” is to create and deploy a version 2.0 of a software-as-a-service (SaaS) called NPressive. We already had success with a version 1.0 release 4 years ago, selling enough licenses to cover the cost of operations. But we stopped investing in development once we got distracted by providing professional services once again. So, the problem is how do we not get distracted once again from our passion project, and instead turn it into a full-fledged business enterprise?

Step two — define success.

Our original goal was that of any SaaS — make money! And while that is certainly a goal we have, it is perhaps one further into the future. What we really want is to make a difference with our talents, and be recognized for them. After two decades of building our collective expertise, we want others to experience our creation — our software — and find it, well, impressive. We want our software to provide others so much value that they decide to not only pay for it, but tell all their peers about how much it helped their organization grow and thrive.

And so our definition of success was created — give 100 local Atlanta-based membership organizations a pilot license to try our member engagement platform. Rather than invest thousands in having a team “sell” web software licenses, we want to gift it to as many membership-based organizations as possible and let the exceptional experience do all the selling. We think they will love it so much that they will ultimately upgrade and adopt it into their own membership-based organization, whether that be a youth development non-profit or business chamber of commerce.

Step three — pick a mascot.

So this is where this funny fiddle leaf fig comes into play. A lot of successful businesses have a mascot, which is often a person, animal, or object adopted by the business as a symbolic figure especially to bring them good luck. For example, Atlanta’s own MailChimp has a chimp named Frederick von Chimpenheimer IV, or Freddie for short.

Allow me to introduce you to Forbes, the fiddle leaf fig. So why Forbes?

  • As a red-head, I like Gaelic names. Forbes is from the Gaelic word forba, meaning field. What’s more, I like alliteration. Like, a lot. As my last name is Felfoldi, my own kids both have names that start with an “F” — Fiona and Finnegan.
  • Forbes is an American business magazine that features original articles on finance, industry, investing, and marketing topics. It was founded in 1917 by B.C Forbes, a financial columnist for the Hearst papers. The namesake of Heart papers — the media tycoon William Hearst — gifted Atlanta’s Oglethorpe University the largest man-made lake inside Atlanta’s I-285 perimeter. This 32-acre property is now called Silver Lake, and it is now the neighborhood in which my family and I live. I walk the woodlands daily, either exercising with my energetic Vizsla or hunting for salamanders with my daughter; it is my place of zen.
  • Npressive’s mission is to help membership-based organizations grow their relationships. And what is better at growing, and more challenging to grow, than a fiddle leaf fig plant?!

So join me in welcoming Forbes, the fantastic fiddle leaf fig, mascot to NPRESSIVE. Although small now, he is ready to grow up and impress us all.

When is this Pandemic Over?

There are three ways we get to the end of this pandemic, which all end with with herd immunity:

  • Race through it
  • Delay and vaccinate
  • Coordinate and crush

In the first, many will suffer — physically, emotionally, and financially — but few behaviors have to change for any period of time; this option is the most devastating in terms of death, and arguably most disruptive to our economy as customers flee from certain activities whenever there is a hot spot to save their life or someone they love from avoidable infection, suffering and death.

In the second, fewer will suffer, but behaviors must be altered until the time a majority of the population is vaccinated. This will take years of delay until a vaccination is 1) discovered & tested, 2) manufactured & deployed, and 3) administered — all across billions of dollars, doses, and people. On the positive side, far fewer will needlessly suffer and die, and economic impact will be shorter lived as people continue to engage in most activities with slightly altered behaviors.

The final option requires the most change in behavior and for most of the population — quarantining, physical distancing, wearing masks, avoiding gathering indoors and travel to move the virus across borders. This will have to occur and reoccur whenever a hotpot appears in our interconnected web of humanity, thus shutting down that specific region for weeks to a month until the community spread is aggressively contained. Therefore, this approach also assumes these humans are able to look past nations, politics, and believes and coordinate with a common goal. This approach offers the most benefits with the fewest deaths, but is a tall order that has never been achieved on a global scale.

It’s become clear that half the US has selected “race through it”, which has resulted in a 25 million infections with unknown long-term ramifications, 446,315 dead, and trillions in stimulus continuing to be injected into our economy to prop it up. The other half of Americans selected “delay and vaccinate.” Many in this group, however, no longer have the stamina to maintain the necessary behavioral modifications as the vaccine is administered. Restaurants, entertainment venues, workplaces, and schools are scheduling their re-openings, mitigation strategies are viewed more as optional, and cross country and continent travel is being scheduled. As a result, every week more and more Americans are shifting into the “race through it” camp before 1) they receive the vaccine, but even more importantly 2) enough people receive a vaccine in order to create herd immunity. As of today, only a mere 8% of the US has been vaccinated, which is just over half of the available doses.

Please help continue delaying the spread by practicing mitigation measures. We are at mile marker 21; the wall has been reached and now the mental marathon begins. For the first time can see the finish line far in the distance; don’t let fatigue cause you to give up yet.

The Best 2020 Ever

At first glance, 2020 was an utter shit-show for most of us. There is, of course, the pandemic and its negative effects on the mental, physical, and financial well-being of billions of fellow humans. My own day-to-day has been consumed by the pandemic — it has cratered my 20+ year business, altered my kid’s education, and changed life-long goals and aspirations. I have internalized the stress from the pandemic by gaining covid-19 pounds. I have verbally lashed out in frustration-induced anger against those I care about the most. It hasn’t been easy, but I can’t imagine it has been easy for most of us.

But I’m not going to do any of that negative talk today; I’ve done that aplenty all year long. Instead, I’m going to focus on the positive and highlight a single happy moment from each month of 2020. So much positive energy abounds that I’m going to start with and include an unlucky number — a 13th month.

December 2019 – I celebrated my 40th dancing to a live swing band with dozens of friends — how cool is that?! In my 20’s, I hosted an annual party nearly every December and even encouraged making it a dressy affair. It instilled my love of the vest. It’s been a while since I’ve done such an event, and I look forward to the next time I can host one. Here’s looking at you December 2021!

I was able to catch up and dance with friends that I hadn’t seen in nearly 20 years! look at those dapper gentlemen (taken, ladies).

January I was able to continue a tradition my family started a few years earlier — visiting the beach for new years. My kids love the beach, but I dislike the heat and sun, so winter beach trips are a win-win for our family. Also, the pace of beach vacations is refreshing after a typical event-filled holiday.

Photo from my half-marathon training in Jekyll Island on December 31, 2019.

February – I attended my first Daddy/Daughter dance with Fiona (6YO). I suited up and we went to Maggiano’s with some of her friends, The Grantham Twins, and then hit up the local Lynwood Rec center for some CRAZY dancing. Ok, I didn’t even get in a dance with her, and she doesn’t even remember the event, except for the pasta dinner; she always remembers the pasta dinner.

March – I ran and completed my 17th half marathon. It was more of a shuffle, and there was a fair amount of walking up hills, but I did it after planning on bailing the night before so I’m going to call it a win. I’m not built for running. Or maybe I am, but I don’t eat like I’m a runner. Or maybe I do, even when I’m not training.

Getting my run-face on.

April – Our household went into shelter-in-place the day before the Ides of March. Since I have spent a LOT of time with these kids. I feel like I have been given a rare opportunity to soak in their childhoods. Our days are spent exploring their woodlands, playing dress-up and video games, and learning the basics (Jessica is the lead in that department). I’ve discovered that Finnegan loves to dance (or has he calls it “bootie dance”) and is obsessed with milk and bread. Fiona is destined to be either an entomologist or a fashionista; one of the two, or both.

May – This month gave us 6 pet chickens, or chicklets. I’m undecided about the whole affair, but they do seem to bring my wife a lot of joy so I will consider that a month-worthy positive. My knowledge of chickens breeds and behaviors has expanded infinitely. Interestingly, my buffalo wings intake has increased substantially to my daughter’s chagrin.

This was Hengelica. Or Eggliza. or Peggy — one of the Schuyler Chicksters.

June – Some people may be embarrassed to say a video game brings them joy. I am not one of those peoples. The Last of Us 2 was released this month after 7 years of waiting, and I was given all Father’s Day weekend (and then some) to enjoy it. The game was, in my opinion, the game of the decade. Then again, we are only 1 year into that decade, so that’s not as impressive now that I think about it.

July – I have spent more hours in the private woodlands and lake next to our house than I can count. As I’m wandering the woodlands with my dogs, kids, or just by myself nearly every day, I reflect on how fortunate I am to have discovered this urban gem years ago. Jessica and I found this urban gem while looking up running and biking routes near Brookhaven; we would run or ride on Inman Drive, dreaming of the day we could afford to live near. And then one day, we could, and we did, and now we are. I can’t imagine ever wanting to move away.

August – This is Fiona’s birthday month, and this year she celebrated her 6th birthday. While every year I say she is blossoming into something truly beautiful, this was certainly her year to explore and discover her world. She spent hours hunting butterflies, frogs, worms, insects, fish, and salamanders. She has earth sciences and biology covered! I’m truly enjoying watching her grow; she brings smiles to my face daily. I am fortunate to be able to cherish so many days with my woodland sprite.

September – My wife Jessica gets her own month. She is the heart and soul of this family and has kept it from careening off course with sheer will alone. I certainly couldn’t have done 2020 without her, nor would I want to. I’ve been extraordinarily lucky to be “stuck” with her this year, and hopefully, she will stick around when we no longer have to be.

October – My wife and I participated in Brookhaven Biketober Bingo. It basically had us bicycling around Brookhaven to find 25 bingo spots. I recognized most of them at first glance, but then spent too many hours than I’d like to admit on Google Maps trying to find the final few. In the end, we got 2 fun date rides — thanks to Nana for watching the kids! — and won $50 in gift certificates at REI and Mellow Mushroom.

November – Every weekend we were out exploring the woodlands of Atlanta. If it wasn’t some park where the kids could practice riding their bikes, it was driving out to explore some trail. We rarely ever have weekend pans anymore, so if the weather is right — and it often was during the month of November — we would just head out to wherever the day took us. I hope we can retain this type of weekend freedom for as long as possible.

December 2020 – We end 2020 back where we started in 2019 — the beach. This time we headed down to Seagrove, Florida along 30A for the first time in forever. The beaches were as weirdly white as the demographic of everyone else that vacations there. Serendipitously, we ended up discovering one of Fiona’s friends was also vacationing nearby, and Jessica and I got a date night with them thanks to Nana — thanks again!

Participating in the George Floyd Riots

Hello — I’m writing you from the City of Majority. We are the people filling social media with how scared, angry, and frustrated we are. We are sharing on social media so that we might be heard; that we might be seen. We are texting each other making sure family and friends are safe. We are all so preoccupied with our concern about the violent destruction of … property?

Wait, what? Wasn’t someone slowly murdered in public this week for using a counterfeit $20? And before that for running at the wrong time of day?

The rate at which black Americans are killed by police is more than twice as high as the rate for white Americans. This is a non-comprehensive list of deaths at the hands of police in the U.S. since Eric Garner’s death in July 2014.
LA Johnson/NPR

I know you did everything you could do – “that’s sad, thoughts and prayers” – but it seems like you had a lot more to say when it came to destruction of property than the cessation of life.

When did property become more valuable to you then life?

Why are these violent protests happening, you ask? Because we, the citizens of the City of Majority, didn’t utilize the power of our own privilege fast enough to keep them from happening. The reality is that a protest — violent or peaceful — is in response to the events that occurred before them, and these events are always worse. These protests aren’t only about the death of George Floyd; they are about the continual and systemic inequality and treatment that we — citizens of The City of Majority — put on them, the citizens of Minority. MLK, Jr put it best:

Are there some “bad actors” in these protests? No doubt, just like there are bad actors that hold far more dangerous positions of power, like cops. Should the looters be held accountable for damaging property? Absolutely, just like justice should be swift and exact according to the crime, even more so when it comes to a public murder.

The truth is our pasty privilege projects us daily, which we wear without awareness. I experience ZERO fear when walking in my neighborhood. I experience ZERO discrimination because of my pasty-ass white skin. But that isn’t how it is for many other of my friends and fellow citizens. When you hear their story, how they fear whenever their kids walk out the door, how they have to teach them about how to walk, or how to dress, so that they might not become a statistic — it’s heart-wrenching. Here’s an example a colleague allowed me to share:

We rented a home that gave us access to a private beach so that we could social distance. Both days white families felt the need to challenge if we were “supposed” to be on the beach. Each day calling authorities to challenge us and make us show proof that we belonged there. The first day they asked for wristbands. I asked if she could point to anyone around us that is also wearing this mysterious wristband so that I knew what they looked like. She looked around and did not find anyone. The next day we all went to the beach and the same thing happened again. This time we stayed and felt unwelcome. I’m SOOOO TIRED friends. I’m exhausted mentally and spiritually. We are packing up to come back home so that we are safe(r). My girls came here full of excitement. It was their first trip to the beach. Instead they are leaving feeling the exact opposite. They’ve had their first encounter with racism—and as their mother I couldn’t shield them.

Go back and read that quote again. This time, imagine it was you being harassed by someone else because you were a redhead. Or you had green eyes. Or really, any other physical characteristic you can think about that says nothing about you as a person, but so many around you will now judge you the moment they see this characteristic. And then, they will proceed to treat you as … less than.

Consider this — that feeling you have right now — of being scared, angry, frustrated? That’s how millions of other Americans feel – because the shade of color of their skin is a bit different, likely darker, than yours.

Until justice is applied swiftly, and equally, and consistently, we won’t see an end to violent protests like these. Want the fires to stop? That won’t happen because you post photos of broken windows. Instead, post photos of the factors that kindle such fires, or of others working towards reconciliation. Here’s an example:

Police officers kneel during a rally in Coral Gables, Florida, on Saturday in response to the death of George Floyd.

Can’t think of anything else helpful to say? Then simply speak up LOUDLY against hateful rhetoric from our leaders the moment it occurs. Make it clear you won’t stand for indecency, period. You won’t stand for those sloppily repeating coded language like “thug” or veiled threats to release “vicious dogs” and “ominous weapons.” Stand up for decency, damnit! (#decencydamnit)

And if you don’t know what your part in this can be, contact me. Let’s talk one on one and figure out a way we can help. Because we citizens of the City of Majority have so much untapped power with our privilege; let’s put it to work for equality first, so that we might have peace after.

The next step is up to us — what will it be?

Day 50: Lessons of the Past

The coronavirus will persist until there is either (a) a safe vaccine (still 12 to 18 months away) or (b) until there is “herd immunity,” whereby two-thirds of the nation (about 200 million people) must become infected, recover and develop the appropriate antibodies.

3 Coronavirus Facts Americans Must Know Before Returning To Work, School

As of today, the US has nearly 1.2 million confirmed cases. So after less than 3 months since the first death, and nearly 68,000 dead Americans as of today, our flattening curve has resulted in a population that is less than 1% on the way to b) herd immunity. Simply put — America, we have a long way to go; we’ve just started.

What’s worse, the fact is we don’t know if contracting the infection results in immunity, either. There is a reason we get an annual flu shot. “With the four seasonal beta coronaviruses that circulate and cause all the upper respiratory infections you see in your practice, those people lose immunity in months to a year or two” said Dr. Greg Poland, director of the Vaccine Research Group at the Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Minn.

Let me be clear, my aim isn’t to foster fear of COVID-19 anymore than posting projected unemployment numbers is fostering fear of economic ruin. Rather, I’m stating the fact of what is to come, and to underline that we can’t approach this as sloppily as some states have (ahem, Georgia). We are knee-deep in this viral outbreak. Whatever path we take has consequences, some more easily to forecast than others. Which is why we need to look to the past to understand our future.

The closest comparison we have to COVID19 is the 1918/19 American Flu, which left 675,000 Americans dead in its first year. 100 years ago, the US population was 1/3 what it is today, which means 0.6% of the US died from the 1918/19 Flu. To understand that in today’s population of 331 million, we would need to see over 2 million dead Americans to experience a similar disaster. We are barely 12 weeks into COVID-19. Whether COVID-19 re-emerges in the Fall as COVID-20 is not the question — the CDC director already warned the second wave of coronavirus is likely to be even more devastating. The question is what lessons we can learn from the past to reduce the suffering and death.

We were far less mobile 100 years ago, so spread was less so. In fact, it was troops traveling to and from the the WW1 battlefront in Europe that led to the worser 2nd and 3rd waves of the American Flu.

100 years ago, we didn’t know what we were fighting; we didn’t even know it was a virus until years after, nor did we have a vaccine until decades later. Our response back then was effectively not just every state for itself, but every city — from Philadelphia to St. Louis. The federal government was focused on the war even while President Wilson caught the flu in the spring of 1919 (and of note suffered a severe stroke six months later, as COVID-19 also sees an increase in strokes from those infected).

Back then, we didn’t lock-down entire states. Some cities required masks, like San Francisco. In that example, they also had anti-mask demonstrations, albeit ones without AK-15, tactical gear, and Confederate Flags. It shouldn’t be a surprise what happened to San Francisco once the leadership acquiesced to the demands of the protestors — the city of 500,000 had 45,000 new infections and 3,000 died (again, we see that 0.6% number).

Those ignorant of history are bound to repeat it. At our peak, 90% of the country was in some form of lockdown; today, that number is 70%. States will increasingly open up as their coffers dry up, unable to fund shelter-in-place forever. Soon, we will all emerge. The question is is this — when we do, what will we have we learned from our experience? Will we commit to wearing masks when out in public to reduce spreading infection to others? Will we honor and maintain 6-feet of distancing? Will we avoid physical contact, denying social norms of handshakes and hugs? Will we wash our hands, especially after contact with another? Will we ensure our elders have the funds and resources to shelter-in-place long term? Will we support the child care industry — parents and workers? Will we address the socioeconomic disparities of those most at risk?

As our nation eagerly eyes the future, we must let science inform our decisions about reopening small businesses, allowing students to return to class and easing social restrictions. If we move ahead too quickly, we risk losing lives unnecessarily. If we move too slowly, we also risk unnecessary deaths. We can’t allow politics or panic to push our nation too far in either direction. These three facts, based on science, should guide the way.

Day 30: How Are You Helping Fight Covid19?

Let’s get 5 facts out of the way:

  1. A virus is not a bacteria. They are different things entirely.
  2. This virus — COVID-19 — is not the same as influenza (aka the “flu”). It is not the same thing as the 1918 Pandemic.
  3. COVDI-19 doesn’t kill you itself. In fact, it’s existence depends on you, the host, not dying, but rather spreading it.
  4. COVID-19 transmits when you’re asymptomatic. “The governor of Georgia stands out as a liar or fool or both” states the author of The Great Influenza.
  5. We have no proven way to treat COVID-19 — yet.

If any politician or pundit or media is saying anything different, it is likely out of ignorance. But in this situation, ignorance leads to death and suffering on an exponential scale that our human minds were not built to comprehend. We think linerally. We look at linear graphs, which are meaningless. We wonder how 1,000 became 10,000 in a few days, which is the modus operandi of a virus or bacteria, and even of computational technology — processing, communication, and data storage.

What we know is that this battle with this virus is just starting. It won’t be over in a few weeks, nor a few months. It won’t be over until most of us become immune through innoculation, whether thorugh natural immunity, prior infection, or vaccination. That’s our endgame. That’s where all humanity will need to be. No one knows how long that will take.

In the meantime, we need to stop putting our heads in the sand hoping for the best, hoping that this will all just blow over. Hope is not a strategy. Hope helps those that feel helpless, but we are not helpless. We know exponentially more today than past pandemics. We don’t need hope; we don’t need thoughts and prayers. We need actual behavioral changes from everyone in our society. If you want to hope, hope for that — that people change their behaviors without enforcement; that politicans and pundits stop misleading the public.

The only question we should be asking each other is “How are you helping us get there?”

  • Are you washing your hands?
  • Are you staying home unless necessary and/or essential?
  • Are you keeping spatial distance when out?
  • Are you avoiding gatherings?

Ask yourself — how are you helping us reach our endgame?

Day 17: Coping with Change from COVID-19

According to a 2009 study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, it takes 18 to 254 days for a person to form a new habit. If that’s the case, that means most of us are still in the early stages of forming new habits. In other words, we are still adjusting to life under COVID-19; schedules, routines, and habits are being overhauled entirely. Think of all the ways your own life has been forced to change at a shocking pace:

  1. No physical contact in weeks, unless spouse or kids.
  2. Parents turning their homes into schools for the first time.
  3. Most working from home for the first time.
  4. Record spike in unemployment.
  5. Witnessing Depression-era stock market crashes erasing a decade of retirement gains within weeks instead of months.

And that’s just the first few weeks of this pandemic. It t is likely to lock us in homes for at least another 4 weeks said President Trump today, expose us to risk for months, and impact us for years.

So how does one cope with the COVID-19 coronavirus?

The US as projected to be a full 2 weeks away from peak, where we will experience over 2,250 deaths daily. And a peak is the halfway point — once we get there, we can expect 2x as many deaths from that point forward over the longer duration of the bell curve tail.

Grieving the Loss of Norms

The Change Curve is based on a model originally developed in the 1960s by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross to explain the grieving process. Later, the model was extended to 7 stages to include Shock at the beginning, and Testing as the penultimate stage.

The stages originally appeared in a book called On Death and Dying and included 5 stages.

Since then, however, this model has been utilized also as a method of helping people understand their reactions to significant change or upheaval. That’s exactly what the COVID-19 pandemic is for many — grieving the loss of deep-seated norms. And for an unfortunate few, it is even worse with sickness and now death.

Stage 1: Shock and Denial

Can you recall your first reaction to the news of COVID-19? If you are like most humans, it was likely shock and denial. The speed of the event was so swiftly disorientating that you went into a state of shock; there was a feeling of numbness and to combat the instant change thrown upon you. I heard many say the news of COVID-19 felt like hearing about the brief minutes and hours of 9/11 spread across days, if not weeks.

Next, we each responded to this shock with denial — some avoided the news, many questioned the news in their disbelief, others turned to alcohol and drugs. Instead of becoming completely overwhelmed with grief, we deny it, choosing not to accept it. Really, we were staggering the impact so that we could process the unprecedented change. It is our psychological way of saying “ok, slow down, this is too much at one time.” Some of us still are here, and that’s ok; it’s a process! The goal, however, is to recognize these feelings and continue working through them at your own pace.

Stage 2: Frustration, Anger, and Depression

Anger can rear its ugly self in many ways — irritation, anxiety, frustration. In the end, it’s centered in the ego being frustrated that this is happening to them. Have you found yourself exclaiming “It’s unfair” or “Why is this happening to me?” This stage is necessary; it’s important to feel and even embrace the anger. The faster you embrace it, the faster you can heal.

The challenge here is ensuring this anger doesn’t become destructive. For every frustration-venting meme like #staythefuckhome we also have reports of violence against others including those we love most dearly, and also self-abuse or suicide. Tempers are high; the goal is to capture those heightened emotions and funnel them towards healing.

Maybe you haven’t experienced anger, but instead have found yourself negotiating with COVID-19 — “If you change this, then I’ll make this change.” Or perhaps you’ve found yourself struck with guilt of “what-ifs” — “what if I had sold that stock earlier” or “what if I had put my house on the market earlier.” This is part of bargaining. In time, you will come to the recognition that you can’t negotiate with an event, and certainly not a virus. You can’t negotiate with it, telling the virus that if you shelter-in-place for 2 weeks, you ask it to go away by Easter. Rather, you can only recognize that this the behavior of bargaining with the inevitable and inanimate; you must be willing to move onto the next stage.

If you have found yourself withdrawing from life — not wanting to get out of bed, avoiding conversations with others — then you might be approaching this critical stage. Many consider depression the first step of grief and loss, as the feeling can arise quickly. What’s worse, the primary treatment for this COVID-19 pandemic — “social distancing” — may exacerbate feeling of isolation and loneliness.

If you are here, please hear me — you are not alone. A pandemic by its very nature effects all humans, albeit some worse than others. Find comfort in knowing that millions of others are going through the same thing you are. More importantly, we will get through this together.

What’s important is that we don’t get stuck in this stage. We don’t need to practice social distancing; we only need to practice physical distancing. Reach out to friends and family, just virtually. If you don’t want to talk, send a text or email. If you don’t know what to say, send “silver-lining” news to focus on the positive.

Stage 3: Integration and Acceptance

Have you found yourself reaching out to others — virtually — to share your own story, such as scheduling Zoom Happy Hours? Or perhaps you have come to terms that yes, indeed, COVID-19 is going to get worse before it gets better, and that the best thing we can do is stay home to help reduce transmission?

If so, congratulations — you’ve arrived at the final stage in the grieving process! This is the destination that each of us wants to arrive. We’ve come to acceptance of this new reality, with its new norms and new demands. We’ve accepted that we can’t fight it, or change it, but we can adapt to it and prepare for our new future.

How am I coping with COVID-19?

The first week was an emotional blur — I spent endless hours trying to understand what was happening, and what to expect, and realizing that no one knew and many weren’t allowing the truth to come to light. I was angry at friends and family that were still traveling around the world and country or dining out at restaurants, mocking COVID-19 while the case count began in my own community.

The next week was darker; I ended up staying up until 1 or 2am reading news, sleep in, avoiding work throughout the day, and taking lots of walks by myself or with my dog in the woodlands near my house. I spent dozens of hours looking at projections, and crafting blog posts to have some resemblance of “control”. As my projections have been realized as true and accurate, I’ve accepted that I don’t have control over the transmission or spread. Rather, I only have control over my family not being part of that transmission.

This week, I found myself moving into Stage 3: Integration and Acceptance. I’ve changed my focus from being aware of what is happening, and instead am now focusing on how I want to spend the next 4+ weeks. Instead of being upset of COVID-19 happening to me, I’m finding the silverlining:

  • I’m blogging again! I enjoy learning about something novel — even the novel coronavirus, synthesizing the information critically, and sharing my experience and knowledge with others. I appreciate each of you that have contacted me thanking me for these blog posts. I put a lot into them to ensure you receive even more from them.
  • I am cooking again! I’m in charge of most meals for the family — shopping, gathering, cooking, and often cleaning. I’m enjoying learning how to put together meals with whatever we have on hand, and treating the family to delivery once a week.
  • I’m exercising (still)! I completed my 17th half-marathon a few weeks before COVID-19 hit, but its presence has cancelled all my upcoming races like my annual Ragnar Trail in April. I’m still getting out there for runs and bicycling, and keep up my daily walks.
  • I’m learning positive! I’m not only just thinking positive, but I’m learning about it. I signed up for a 10-week Science of Well Being virtual course from Yale.

In this course you will engage in a series of challenges designed to increase your own happiness and build more productive habits. As preparation for these tasks, Professor Laurie Santos reveals misconceptions about happiness, annoying features of the mind that lead us to think the way we do, and the research that can help us change. You will ultimately be prepared to successfully incorporate a specific wellness activity into your life.

The Science of Well-Being, offered by Yale
This is the view of my daily mile walk in my wonderful woodlands. My peppery vizsla joins me every day, and sometimes my adventurous 5Y0 daughter joins us, too.

How are you coping?

Day 14: The US is Just Now Getting Started

The fatality rate from COVID-19 ranges from as low as 0.5% in Germany, to as high as 10% in Italy. Why is this?

Business Insider/Skye Gould/Andy Kiersz, data from Johns Hopkins University

It turns out that Germany has been testing for months now, and thus has better insight into just how far the virus spread in the country. With that vital information, they were able to act more quickly; they were able to identify the infected before they even presented signs, and quarantine them accordingly.

While the virus may be novel, this idea isnt. It was put into practice in a small town of 3,000 in Italy. They were able to isolate and rid the community of the virus within 14 days, the tail end of the incubation period.

Let’s assume that the actual fatality rate is indeed 0.5%. If so, my state of Georgia, notorious for undertesting, likely has 6x as many cases unconfirmed. What we don’t know, however, is trajectory. How long did it take to get there? Is it slowing or accelerating?

If Georgia was smart, they would require that any hotspot test the population liberally, even if not showing symptoms, and quarantine any positive persons. Instead, Georgia, and the US, are acting dumb.

Next week, the US will have the most number of cases in the world, and the fact is the actual unconfirmed case count is probably 2x higher. And because we are barely practicing containment – my own city of Brookhaven Georgia just put shelter in place into place 48 hours ago – we will continue to experience a doubling of cases and deaths every 3 days.

The end result is clear – by this weekend Georgia’s hospitals will be overrun and medical staff will be unprotected.

This Friday, March 27 will mark the 15th day of my self-imposed shelter in place for my family. We started the day our city, Brookhaven, reported the first confirmed case. But it was only yesterday that the City of Brookhaven extended our state of emergency from March 30th until April 15th. As a result was only until yesterday that we treated this crisis like it was an emergency.

What’s worse, local daycares are opening back up after 2-weeks of closure as they are now deemed “essential services”. The result is clear — what could have been 2-weeks of actual containment is now 4-weeks or longer of middling stay-at-home recommendations, still unenforced. Of makeshift homeschooling of kids while trying to work from home. Of staggering job losses. Of overrun hospitals and deaths.

What does the microcosm of my city of Brookhaven, Georgia, population 55,000, say about the larger US? That we are unwilling to accept the reality of how a virus functions. That we think America is somehow exceptional when battling a virus. That we are about 2 weeks behind where we should be. That our collective indecision will result in the preventable deaths of thousands, unnecessary suffering of millions, and saddling our kids with record debt in the now trillions.

That shelter-in-place is now being enforced for Americans, but only for the hospitalized and dead ones.

Day 12: COVID-19 in 15 Days

I want America to understand — this week, it’s going to get bad.

US Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams

The America Virus (aka the 1918 influenza pandemic) that killed 20 to 50 million humans was also called the Three Day Fever because incubation was fast and furious. The mean incubation period for COVID-19, however, is a full 5 days, and 98% within 12 days. This means that whatever action we take today, we are at least 5-12 days away from understanding the causal effect from it.

So what will things look like in the next 15 days for America?

By the end of this week, the US will have more COVID-19 cases than Italy. In 10 days, we will have more cases than China. The ignorant among us will argue about “confirmed case counts per capita”, stating that it ain’t no big deal — of course the US would have more cases as it has more people. The informed will remind them that the virus doesn’t care about nationality nor borders, and thus per capita. Rather, it only cares about using human hosts to spread. And that virus has found a most exceptional host in American Individualism; the case growth rate is already accelerating faster than that of Italy.

Chart is in log scale to mimic the exponential rate at which the virus spreads
Source: Vox analysis of Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University data, through March 22; Financial Times

The ignorant will state that a full 80% of the infected will experience mild symptoms. The informed will remind them that 20% of these cases will need hospitalization, which will overrun our hospital resources – staff, beds, and equipment. Already, America is sending their medical staff to battle with personal protection equipment gifted from others despite the President having the approved power to enact the Defense Production Act since March 18th.

And then, slowly, 1% of the cases will die. Today it is 500 dead, in a few days it will be 1,000 deaths, and next week it will be 2,000+. After 15 days, we will look back as thousands of Americans drown in fluid-filled lungs pleading for ventilators, medical staff bringing stitched together personal protection equipment from home, and thousands of families unable to the funerals for their dead loved ones.

In 15 days, 10% of American workers will be unemployed or furloughed. They may get a check for $1,000, and told that will need to be enough to tide them over for 4 more weeks. And during those 4 weeks, the US will continue the path of exponentially growing cases, and deaths.

At the end, if we are lucky, we will receive respite in July, as temperatures remain well above 70 degrees and 60% humidity in the northern hemisphere to slow the spread. Our salvation will more likely be an early, humid heatwave than a vaccine 12-18 months away. The good news — January 2020 was the hottest January going back 141 years.

And then COVID-19 will fly south for the winter to hunt for new hosts, infecting the southern hemisphere during their slight 23.5 degree tilt away from the sun.

God Save America Humanity.