It’s a coronamergency, but let’s not relax any of our rules

I made it out to the local supermarket recently. The folks in our town who previously said that helping the vulnerable was their only priority continue to keep it stripped of the hand sanitizer and toilet paper that their neighbors might need. The righteous boycott of Barilla pasta, which (initially) refused to feature same-sex couples in its advertising, was apparently forgotten. The only pasta shape left from any brand was lasagna (people don’t have time to boil and bake when they’re sheltering in place?). Nearly all dairy products, however, including the ricotta cheese necessary for a standard lasagna, had been cleaned out. When did ricotta cheese become an emergency ration?

What struck me the most was being carded for the small box of wine that I bought for the lasagna recipe. It’s a national emergency, many of our loved ones will be dead soon, and the nearest toilet paper is in Canada, but we will still put effort into verifying that someone in his 50s is authorized to buy alcohol?

When I returned home, there was an email from the airport. The strict regulations for renewing security badges remain in force. People have to come in, do computer-based training (at a shared computer) to review material that they saw two years previously, and then get a new badge. The idea of relaxing this policy and extended all expired badges for six months is unworkable, apparently. Instead there will be some additional rules, e.g., people whose badges aren’t close to expiring will be turned away, etc.

I had a checkup scheduled at a local physicians’ office. I called to see if it was still on (“no”; anything routine is pushed out until June). The automated phone system forces callers to listen to a lengthy message that hasn’t changed from pre-plague times. It gives the clinic’s FAX number so that they can continue to comply with HIPAA while the economy and society collapse.

I opened my email to find a bill for $4.98 in tolls accumulated while renting a Hertz car in Florida. The “PlatePass administrative fee” was an additional $17.85, i.e., the bureaucracy cost 358 percent more than the service consumed.

An immigrant friend used to say that the true religion of Americans is regulatory compliance because it consumes roughly the same amount of time that people in medieval times spent going to church and praying. I wonder if his perspective is borne out by how Americans are responding to coronaplague.

In this time of coronaplague, I do wonder if we need to make sure that we’ve budgeted for the fact that we can never be as responsive as societies where less time and money is invested in making rules and complying with rules. We might need a much longer shutdown than China, for example, since we have so many people dedicated to crossing Ts and dotting Is and therefore fewer who can perform tests, set up temporary hospitals, etc.


  • “the coronavirus is forcing authorities to admit many of their regulations are unnecessary” (Reason): Something similar is going on in Massachusetts, a state well-known for high levels of regulation, including of the medical sector. Expecting a crush in medical care needs due the coronavirus, Gov. Charlie Baker has seen the light and agreed to streamline the Bay State’s recognition of “nurses and other medical professionals” who are registered in other parts of the United States, something that 34 states do on a regular basis. … And over at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), bureaucrats have suddenly decided to approve overnight a coronavirus test that its former chief, Scott Gottlieb, has described as a “fairly routine technology.” The Roche test is 10 times faster than the process currently being used, but the FDA didn’t approve it until this past Friday—and then only for this particular emergency.
  • “I Got the Coronavirus Test. My Ordeal Was Just Beginning.” (Politico, 3/15/2020): “On Thursday, March 5, I began my own odyssey trying to determine if I, too, had contracted COVID-19 … I spent the next 11 hours at the ER getting tested for multiple contagions. A doctor wearing a breathing apparatus over his head and chest … She informed me they would send the two specimens to Maryland’s public health department for COVID-19 testing, which could take as much as 48 hours. I was then told to go home and await the results. Back at home, I noticed the paperwork did not supply me with a way to track my testing, nor did it provide me with a point of contact for my results… Late Sunday, March 8, I heard from an outbreak investigator at the county health department. She had discovered that only one of my two specimens had been sent in for testing, despite a two-specimen protocol; the other was still sitting in an ER refrigerator.”
  • Canada is apparently more holistic and flexible. On March 17 they decided to extend expiring pilot medical certificates at least to August 1 (AOPA).

5 thoughts on “It’s a coronamergency, but let’s not relax any of our rules

  1. If you have any business to conduct with the RMV in Massachusetts requiring your in-person presence, be warned that the State has closed all but 8 offices (Boston/Haymarket, Brockton, Fall River, Lawrence, Pittsfield, Plymouth, Springfield and Worcester) and the lines are breathtaking. I had a family member in Worcester today to transfer a title, get plates and re-register a vehicle. He arrived at 7:05 a.m., two hours before the office opened, and the line of people outside being drenched by the rain had already grown to almost a full block long, folded up in the parking lot. Despite the downpour nobody was going anywhere. Everyone got a ticket with a number and people were being let in the building one at a time, starting with the first batch of 25, then onesey-twosey. State police were guarding the doors and parking lots. If you have any irregularities in your paperwork you can expect no mercy and be told to come back when you get the problem straightened out. I give 50/50 odds that by this time next week the state will cut the number of locations in half or more, and tell people they’re simply out of luck, unless your transaction can be completely handled online.

    • Some provinces in Canada long ago privatized things like the “RMV” into privately-owned businesses called “registries” (they handle all govt licensing, renewals, registrations, etc). They are staffed by private-sector employees vs unionized public-sector employees. They are common in every shopping mall and everywhere throughout big cities. The longest wait is typically a few minutes. As of yesterday the registries are still open, despite many other private businesses and most govt offices being closed. Hooray free enterprise?

  2. Looks like Seattle is ahead of others. We already have drive-through testing, Costco had toilet paper all day. Overall it looks like first wave of stocking up is over, fridges are full and people can’t stock up anymore.

    Most government offices are closed for in-person business, but King County Records Office surprisingly efficiently processed our paperwork over mail.

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