Unsettling Times

By Jennifer Tougas, CAPP, PhD

IPMI blog post 040120 imgWhen I first heard that there was a “novel coronavirus” in China and the Chinese government was taking extreme measures to try to contain the spread of the disease, it caught my attention. When it started spreading outside of China to the cruise ship docking in Japan, and then to Seattle and South Korea, I became concerned. When the Italian government took similar drastic actions, I starting turning to our own leadership for guidance. If a modern, industrialized nation with a first-class medical establishment could be brought to its knees in a matter of days, what does that hold for our future in the U.S.?

This COVID-19 pandemic is unparalleled in our lifetime. After watching documentaries about the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918, I understood the magnitude of what this virus could do if it were virulent enough and left to spread unchecked. While we are benefitting from 100 years of medical advancement, we’re quickly learning the limits of our medical establishment and our just-in-time supply chains, and the fragility of our service based economy. What happens when there are no customers to serve?

This is a defining moment in our history. It is one where necessity is forcing us to take actions to solve problems quickly in unique ways. It is one where leadership is vitally important to coax society to make drastic changes in how we live day to day to protect ourselves and our loved ones.  Where the ability to make sound decisions in the face of uncertainty is crucial. I’m impressed by some of the leadership I’ve seen by those who lead, calmly yet urgently,  to “flatten the curve.” I’m impressed by the responses of schools, companies, and businesses who are taking actions because “it’s the right thing to do.” I’m impressed by the herculean efforts of IT teams in institutions of higher education around the world who are giving faculty a crash course in online instruction. I’m impressed by those who are thinking creatively to solve their challenges quickly.

In Kentucky, we’re still early on the curve. At the same time, 6.7 million people in California are on lockdown as that state struggles to stay ahead of the virus. Recently, WKU announced it is closing its residence halls and continuing online instruction until the end of the semester. Campus, which is usually bustling with activities, is eerily quiet. I walked my dog around the block at lunchtime and noticed the birds singing because there is significantly less traffic on the nearby highway. It’s surreal.

I hope where you are, you and your family remain healthy. To borrow from the Brits, “Stay Calm and Carry On.”

Jennifer Tougas, CAPP, PhD, is director of parking and transportation at Western Kentucky University and a member of IPMI’s Board of Directors.