Unintended Consequences

Though I have not yet heard anything to the effect that the pandemic has fueled an increase in consumption of single-use plastics as a consequence of the rise in takeout meals, I would not be surprised to hear it.

To tell you the truth, my consumption of single-use plastics has gone up slightly in recent weeks as I’ve been trying to make a point of supporting local restaurants at a time when they’ve been compelled to shut down their dine-in operations. I figure it’s OK to ease up a little to offer a bit of support in a time of need. (I also sometimes ease up on plastics/styrofoam at ordinary times; for example, when ordering from a minority-owned restaurant and/or one that’s struggling to survive in a rough part of town.) In the long term, of course, I remain committed to avoiding single-use plastics to the best of my ability.

So I was happy to see in my inbox today an email from the Surfrider Foundation, offering a map of ocean-friendly restaurants across the USA. Ocean-friendly restaurants are ones that avoid use of plastics, since plastics are wreaking such havoc on the oceans and the creatures who live there. Just input your location/zip code to find OFRs near you. As it says on their website, “One restaurant, one customer at a time, [The Surfrider Foundation’s Ocean Friendly Restaurants program] increases awareness, drives behavior change, and ultimately creates scalable impact to reduce our plastic footprint.” Bon appetit!

One unintended consequence of the pandemic is happening for sure: Human beings are demonstrating great flexibility and creativity in adapting to the challenges. Then again, adaptiveness is one of the core defining attributes of human nature. And while the situation that’s motivating our inventiveness is tragic and scary, it is reassuring to see human creativity rise quickly to meet adversity.

Today in my local paper (the Daytona Beach News-Journal), an AP article reported on how hospitals are accommodating increased demand for beds:

“With capacity stretched thin, U.S. hospitals are rushing to find beds for a coming flood of patients, opening older closed hospitals, turning single rooms into doubles and re-purposing other medical buildings. Louisiana is making deals with hotels to provide additional hospital beds and has converted three state parks into isolation sites for patients who can’t go home. Illinois is reopening a 314-bed suburban Chicago hospital that closed in September. In Seattle, Harborview Medical Center is turning a homeless shelter into a 45-bed coronavirus recovery center.” (Makes me worry about where the homeless people got put, but anyway.)

This ability to be flexible and make more from less, particularly for the hospital sector to be flexible and make more from less, is reassuring. I would like to see such inventiveness applied to cutting the costs of hospitalization and other health care. Having lived for some years in Japan, where the hospitals were nowhere near as plush and spacious but everyone had access to low-cost health care, I have a bit of resistance to the large, shiny, cushy nature of USAmerican hospitals.

Never once in Japan did I doubt the quality of care I was getting, nor did I or anyone else lack access to basic health care. A lot of hospitals I’ve seen in the USA (particularly in recent years with the rise of the for-profit hospitals) feel more like luxury hotels. It’s kind of creepy actually. The problem is, of course, not everyone can afford the price of admission to these luxury hotels.

Well, I’m rambling a bit here. Long story short: It’s good to see citizens of the Land of Extreme Luxury demonstrating that we have not lost our ability to make do with bare-bones solutions. As in, suddenly deciding that older hospitals are good enough to use after all; that people can deal with being in double rooms; that a state park can serve as a quarantine facility. Maybe if we can be that flexible in an emergency, we can carry that flexibility into the future. Then maybe our hospitals over the long run can become accessible to all, and not eat up so many of our financial and other resources.

And while we’re at it, maybe we could apply that mentality to our colleges and other schools too. School facilities have gotten over-the-top fancy over the years. Maybe we’d be willing to trade some of that fanciness for “less fancy but more affordable.” I’m indulging myself a bit here by allowing this tenuous thinking-tangent to make it into a blog post. I will scout around for some more authoritative voices to support my thinking, and will add any good links I find. But for now I’ll leave it at this.

What do you think of my comments about the fanciness of hospitals and other facilities?

And, what are some unintended consequences you’re noticing (either positive or negative) of the pandemic? By the way, when I ask you questions in my posts, they aren’t rhetorical; I really enjoy hearing your opinions. In fact, I’m thinking of taking the plunge and enabling comments on this blog, even though it opens the door to spam. (A blog I had in a long-ago chapter of my life even got taken over by Soviet hackers; I woke up one morning, circa 2000, to find the Trailer Park Girl blog turned all Cyrillic and cartoon-risqué). I may try enabling comments for a week or so to see how it goes. I guess the worst thing that can happen is I find out that the dreaded Dmitri, hacker of obscure blogs, is still alive and well.

Update March 28: I just read about another unintended consequence of the pandemic: Gasoline prices have dropped below $2 a gallon here. That might explain why I’ve seen several motorists lately idling their cars for 15, 25 minutes or more. Then again, people were doing that even when gas was over $3 a gallon. That always amazes me, because the people doing it just look like everyday folks who don’t particularly have money to burn.

Another unintended consequence I just read about: Bait & tackle shops in my area are seeing a surge in business as people seek safe outdoor activity to escape cabin fever and the 24-hour news dripfeed. Now that’s a happy thing on many levels!

Further Reading:

Is This a Hospital or a Hotel? (Elisabeth Rosenthal, New York Times): “Some hospitals in the United States … have long been associated with deluxe accommodations, and others have always had suites for V.I.P.’s. But today even many smaller hospitals often offer general amenities, like room service and nail salons, more often associated with hotels than health care. In the current boom of hospital construction, private rooms have become the norm. And some health economists worry that the luxury surroundings are adding unneeded costs to the nation’s $2.7 trillion health care bill. … American hospitals are looking less and less like their more utilitarian counterparts in Europe, where the average hospital charges per day are often less than a quarter of those in the United States…” This article ends with a link to a quiz “Can you tell a hotel from a hospital?” It’s actually even harder than I thought in some cases — I got several answers wrong!

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