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A virus then a May frost; Are locusts next?

These are strange times and it's not just this danged virus that has upset the apple cart.

Over the weekend, wearing a hoodie -- in May! -- to work in the yard just didn't seem right. But with the temperatures combined with a strong breeze, the old hoodie felt really good in the morning hours.

And then, after a long day working in the yard and garden, I was taking a much-needed pre-bedtime nap Saturday night when I was rudely awakened to help Donna cover up all her flowers as the weather forecasters began to predict that frost was a possibility.

So, there we were after 10 p.m. Saturday hunting up old sheets and plastic tarps to protect the tender plants from weather we don't usually experience a full week into May.

But it all worked out. In 20/20 hindsight, my predictions that the weather forecasters would be wrong proved fairly accurate or else a little protection worked.

The flowers survived, although there was just a glint of frost on the hayfield adjoining the house.

By now I usually have some early squash and cukes in the garden but other tasks kept me away from planting -- and I'm glad I didn't have to run around trying to figure out how to protect the garden as well as the flowers.

By Sunday afternoon, when the weather was beautiful, if a little on the cool and breezy side, we got those squash, cukes and green beans planted, figuring, correctly I hope, that Mother Nature is going to bless us with some consistently warm weather fairly soon.

It is now the middle of May -- and if the weatherman was correct, by the time you're reading this the thermometer is going to be reading in the mid-to-high 80s.

If that's true, at least the weather is getting back to normal, but I suspect it's going to be a long, long time -- if ever -- before we get through this COVID-19 pandemic, which has turned the entire world upside down.

As the country tries to reopen, what happens next is not only uncertain but frightening.

Many of the states where reopening is happening had infection rates that were still climbing when authorities decided to toss science aside and see what would happen if they reopened.

In another couple of weeks, the infection rates will tell the story about whether we can get back to any form of normal before a vaccine and therapeutic medications are widely available.

My guess is that we'll still be in at least semi-shutdown mode this fall and probably well into the winter.

In the meantime, the virus is having some strange effects.

For example, meat prices at the retail level are climbing quickly -- and the supply is getting smaller despite the administration's order to keep the meat-packing plants open, ignoring the sickness among workers.

With meat prices higher, you'd think that the producers of beef and pork would be happy and making money.

Yet, because of how the system works, the prices of animals on the hoof have dropped precipitously and farmers are left holding the bag.

With the packing plants either closed or struggling to remain open, they are processing less meat and that has severely lessened the demand for animals -- and demand controls the price.

But the real head-scratcher is that as American supplies of meat fall, more and more beef and pork are being processed here for export to China.

Part of that is attributable to Smithfield Foods. which is owned by China's WH Group, Ltd. In addition, JBS USA is owned by a Brazilian company.

The result is that American consumers could see 30 percent less meat in supermarkets by the end of May but at prices 20 percent higher than last year.

By the way, since mid-March, shipments of American pork to China more that quadrupled over the same period last year.

Our entire marketing system for meat and just about everything else is so fragile and has so many "pressure points" that even a small disruption can wreak havoc.

And this virus is no small disruption.

When -- or should we say if -- this virus is ever controlled and we get back to some kind of a normal existence, we really need to look at how everything works and see what we can do to make systems stronger and less susceptible to unexpected pressure.

That certainly is true with eduction -- and while the health care workers are rightfully getting a lot of attention right now -- the children who should be in school are facing a crisis of their own.

Everyone wants to talk about broadband accessibility as the main problem -- and that certainly is true for a lot of parents and children alike -- but the issues are far more complex than that.

A good part of education is social -- making friends, building relationships, having fun, interacting and learning how to cope with different circumstances.

Sitting alone at home most of the day, staring into a computer screen and trying to wade through boring assignments and reports alone is not easy for many children.

They are feeling an intense sense of isolation and almost abandonment. Their world has been turned upside-down as well and their relationships with their teachers, coaches and other school staff members have suffered.

Perhaps hit worst of all are this year's graduating high school and college seniors, who won't have traditional graduation services, won't be able to bask in their successes with friends and family and won't have an opportunity to participate in all the excitement that typically surrounds graduation and pre-graduation events this time of the year.

School officials are trying to make things better but there is only so much that can be done while maintaining any degree of social isolation, with the classrooms shut down and with all sports activities strictly curtailed.

Although schools are tentatively making plans to reopen in late summer -- or, maybe even in early August -- there is a good likelihood that the virus will again play havoc with those plans if we endure the much-predicted second wave of infections.

The virus and the responses to this pandemic also are playing havoc with local governments.

Frankly, as someone who has dealt with budgets for both governments and businesses for many years, I had to smile at how some are reacting.

Even our county says it is scaling back its revenue projections by about 4.6 percent as it plans for fiscal 2020-21 -- and is budgeting for no tax increases.

That is incredibly optimistic, in my view, because this virus is likely to slash tax revenues far beyond 4.6 percent -- or even 10 or 15 percent, especially if there is a second wave this fall and into winter.

As for tax and payroll increases, if I were responsible for those budgets, the answers would be no and no way!

There is just too much uncertainty and the effects too far ranging to project accurate numbers for the next few months at least.

Local governments also are waiting on Congress and this administration to provide direct stimulus aid to them but that is anything but a given.

It's likely that the aid will be a long time coming and structured to look good to taxpayers but not provide the kind and level of relief that will be needed by local governments in the short term.

So far, much of the talk of federal aid to local governments centers around improving broadband service, a noble goal but not practical in the short term.

To boost broadband speeds and accessibility will require a great deal of planning and infrastructure development, both of which will take a long time to plan and install.

Think years, not months, to make a significant difference.

That's not to say it shouldn't happen, it's just to caution that it won't be a short-term fix that local governments think they will need sooner rather than later.

Most of us also have seen the television pundits, many of them Google executives, who are using this pandemic to lobby for more government money because, to hear them tell it, computers will take care of just about anything and everything. It certainly would be good for their bottom line!

But how true is all of that, really?

One example is their almost constant flacking for virtual doctor visits which, to hear them tell it, are just as good as an in-person visits.

I doubt that's true. It's better than nothing and can be used as a stop-gap monitoring measure during a pandemic like we're going through now.

But I seriously doubt that many doctors are going to be content to rely on tele-medicine to make complex diagnoses or to monitor difficult diseases.

Yes, using some relatively simple home diagnostic tools and talking with a patient over a virtual connection may be adequate some of the time for some situations, but I don't think there is any chance that face-to-face meetings with health care professionals are going away anytime soon, regardless of what Google executives are saying.

The same is true with government meetings -- and both Carey and I have had our share of experiences with virtual town meetings as well as county commission and school board meetings in recent weeks.

Okay, yes, they work. Sort of. Most of the time. Eventually.

But they are stilted, far from smooth and, while they allow the public a chance to watch and to some limited degree, participate, they are no substitute for in-person meetings where everyone is in the same room.

One thing I've noticed about these meetings is that the participants tend not to discuss, question or evaluate topics in as much detail as I would expect if they were in an old-fashioned, face-to-face meeting.

In the short term, these virtual meetings will have to be adequate to help protect the public and the participants from this virus, but the sooner we can get back to regular meetings, the more productive our government meetings are likely to be.

A virtual government meeting is, in my experience, like trying to run a stock car race in a golf cart with one flat tire and a failing battery.

Yes, the cart may get you around the track, but it's just not going to be a winner!

Don't believe that? Then just log into one or two of these sessions and watch. If you've ever attended the old-fashioned, in-person meetings, you'll quickly understand how cumbersome these virtual meetings really are.

Let's just hope that this "new normal" is not normal for long and eventually we can get back to something resembling the good old days.

For now, get outside and enjoy this beautiful spring weather.

The forecasters are calling for a hotter than normal summer so enjoy spring while it lasts!

See ya in the garden ... or the hay field!

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Members Opinions:
May 14, 2020 at 10:35pm
I don't think you will get the locusts. He sent Trump instead.

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