• Trace Johannesen

Rockwall COVID Decisions


Overview

Recently, we had an emergency city council meeting to discuss whether or not to go forward with several Independence Day festivities. it was brought to my attention that I may have come across as callous and dismissive by some. As is the case when how I’m perceived does not match how I want to be perceived, I gave it some thought. It’s entirely possible that my tiredness in dealing with the COVID response here in Rockwall County, and my unwillingness to act in fear or panic came across in stronger or more curt statements. If anyone was offended, please know that was not my intent. I’m offering this as an explanation for my positions and why I voted to continue to allow the July 4th events in Rockwall, as well as a response to many comments I have received, as I think this transparently helps show how I think.


Background

It’s worth noting that I have been serving on the Rockwall County COVID task force since March. I have been studying data from various sources nearly every day. Specifically, I look for COVID data sources that do not deal in the currency of clicks. I find these sources to be useless in aiding rational decision-making. However, these profit-driven sources are incredible at creating fear and panic.


In the data, I am looking for trends to indicate whether or not we are going to overwhelm our local healthcare system. I am on calls a few times a week during lunchtime where we all analyze and discuss this information. To date, we have never come close to exceeding the capacity of our regional healthcare system.

I look for COVID data sources which do not deal in the currency of clicks

The virus is here and will spread through us. Full stop. There is no cure. No amount of mask-wearing, hand-washing or shields at the cash register will prevent this. We can slow the spread, and we have done so. Is it worse than the flu? Yes. That’s pretty well established. Is it a thousand times worse? Not even close. Yet our responses seem to be and we need to stop reacting in that way. We need to calm down and make rational decisions based in science - and I don’t mean Facebook science.

To date, we have never come close to exceeding the capacity of our regional healthcare system.

Fortunately, it’s not as bad as many news sources are making it out to be. In fact, our local hospitals are reporting to us that a lower percentage of ER COVID cases are going on ventilators due to some new treatments. This is indeed good news.

lower percentage of ER COVID cases are going on ventilators

Comments

I’m posting the most-often seen comments here so I can answer them one time, as I want the answers to be out there, and I can simply paste the link to answers.


“Your mind is made up / you don’t change your mind”

If it seems I’m convicted in my beliefs, it’s because I’ve spent hours researching and looking for either further confirmation of my theories, or evidence I need to change my opinion. An example of when I changed my opinion based on new data was post-COVID school opening. My original theory that schools should be the last things to reopen. My thinking was that schools are giant germ cesspools, as evidenced by our kids coming home sick so much when they first start into schooling. However, in researching since then, I’ve come to learn that kids are less likely to contract COVID than I thought and their spreading to their families was not as common. Furthermore, in Sweden, they never closed their primary schools. If kids are so dirty, Sweden should have seen massive increases in their cases in children. They never did see this increase. Now my working theory is the high costs due of lack of socialization and the lower amount of learning via remote means outweighs the probability of spreading COVID, and we should, therefore, open all the schools right on time in August.


“You complained about not getting paid”

I made a comment about needing to get back to my job as we don’t get paid enough on City Council. I’m sorry if my joke wasn’t funny. We are all volunteers and have day jobs. We took time away Friday morning because it is important to us that our citizens see how we discuss and make decisions. I take this role very seriously, as should be evident by the time I spend responding to citizens and how available I make myself.


“You don’t care about people”

It sounds as if this statement assumes that “caring about people” means government mandates. I care about our people very much, which is why I’m willing to make hard and rational decisions such as this in the face of loud opposition.


“Our citizens won’t do the right thing”

I think the vast majority of Texans have the common courtesy to not sneeze on each other. For the few rude ones, I'm not sure what can be done, but I think we can agree the government isn't going to waste taxpayer resources to get into the manners business.


“You should just make mask-wearing mandatory”

It is widely known now that transmission is due to close proximity to a positive person in confined spaces for prolonged periods of time. From a New England Journal of Medicine article:

“We know that wearing a mask outside health care facilities offers little, if any, protection from infection. Public health authorities define a significant exposure to Covid-19 as face-to-face contact within 6 feet with a patient with symptomatic Covid-19 that is sustained for at least a few minutes (and some say more than 10 minutes or even 30 minutes). The chance of catching Covid-19 from a passing interaction in a public space is therefore minimal. In many cases, the desire for widespread masking is a reflexive reaction to anxiety over the pandemic.

I have yet to see any compelling reason for us to force businesses to wear masks, because I refuse to pass legislation based on appearance or because it feels good. If any individuals prefer to wear masks, I am all for it. This is a free country.


“You need to take your responsibilities seriously”

I hope the hours of research I've done to understand the risks demonstrates how seriously I take my responsibility. The fact that I make myself available to talk and meet, I meet others where they're most comfortable (often social media), sit down at the Square on a Saturday for "Ask a Councilmember," and stand up for what's right in the face of loud opposition demonstrates how dedicated I am to Rockwall.


“You need to look out for the safety of our citizens”

I believe this means public safety in the form of police and fire, and we do a great job of that as a city. I'm quite proud of our Rockwall folks.


“You were disrespectful to those nurses yesterday”

I was taken aback by this statement. I don’t tend to tolerate disrespect in others, so I asked several folks who attended the whole meeting if I was being disrespectful. They said no, none of us was. Now, did we do what they were asking for? No, we took their advice, and added it to the information we already have, and made the best decision for the city. Just because we don’t do exactly what a subject-matter expert advises doesn’t mean we disrespect them. We have many factors to consider and this is but one of them. Disagreement is not the same as disrespect.


“Why are the Rockwall numbers wrong?”

This is a concern we are working out with the TXDSHS now. The erratic reporting by the state - combined with the County’s lack of a health authority and inability to force hospitals to report numbers to the county - occasionally shows what looks like a scary increase in a single day. Furthermore, our numbers are so low, they’re nearly statistically-insignificant. Example: If one hospital has six ventilators, and each new vent patient could read as: “Fifteen Percent Decrease in Ventilator Capacity in Single Day!” In reality, it’s a single new patient. But the old adage "if it bleeds, it leads" is in full effect with this currency of clicks these days. This is why we use a combination of Rockwall, Dallas County, and regional trends to get a feel for things and inform our decisions.


“An outdoor event is going to put people at risk”

Life is a series of risks we all manage every day. We get into our cars and risk the lives of our families despite the fact that more than 3000 people die each month on US roads. Am I comparing a virus to a car wreck that affects no others? No. I'm talking about how we live life and make risk assessments every day. As I mentioned in the meeting, less than one percent of infections were traced to outdoor activities. In a recent study of 318 outbreaks across 120 cities, one single outbreak was traced to outdoor exposure, and that resulted in only two cases. The study - and countless others - concluded that sharing indoor space is a major COVID risk. For these reasons, I voted to continue our July Fourth activities.


“You need to use common sense”

Common sense tells me to use science to make calm and rational choices. The decisions we make rooted in fear or panic are a lot like decisions we make when intoxicated: we live with the consequences long after the hangover wears off. I’m guessing this comment means I'm not using “common sense” if I disagree with someone's opinion, which seems like a misuse of the term.


“Quit grandstanding and being dismissive of your citizens”

I am certainly not grandstanding, I just continue to be very frustrated as I witness a society continue to operate in fear, and from a lack of understanding. I've watched governmental overreach at all levels and it makes me angry. I don't have a lot of tolerance for hand-wringing or panicking. I take great objection to encroachments on our freedoms. My opinions on this as it pertains to COVID are strong and well-formed by months of analysis. As I mentioned, my intent is not to be dismissive, so if that’s how I come across, I apologize. It’s hard saying the same thing over and over and I’m a human, so I’m not perfect. I do try to get better every day.


“Real life isn’t spreadsheets or robot statistics”

Real-life decisions based on feelings or feel-good laws which don’t actually do anything are useless. I expect my leaders to make calm and rational decisions, and so I do the same.


“The people are worried and you need to act appropriately”

I couldn’t agree more. We need to act calmly and rationally, and I strive to do that every day. Sometimes I even achieve it.


“This isn’t political”

I am in total agreement here. The virus knows no party affiliation. It does seem that individual preference for masks falls along party lines, but my decisions against governmental overreach - or decision-making not based in science and data - have nothing to do with political parties. It has to do with allowing freedom, which is a cornerstone of America.


“You lack empathy”

This not certainly not my intent, and as I mentioned, perhaps my tiredness in dealing with this subject for nearly four months now was evident. I’ll try harder.


Conclusion

I hope this helps to shed a light on how I think about policy issues, especially divisive or scary ones. Let's all remain calm and make good decisions. Keep your distance and maintain hygeine. We're are not through this yet, but the good news is it is nowhere close to as bad as originally thought. As always, happy to change my mind with new data. Want to talk more? Give me a call.


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Trace4Texas

I'm running for Congressional District 4 of Texas and would love to hear from you. You can reach me below. 

Email: info@tracejohannesen.com

Phone: 972-372-4260

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