Duane Smith | Relaxed Biosecurity and COVID-19

Letters to the Editor
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In 2008, the Los Angeles Valley College speech and debate team won the national title at the Phi Rho Pi National Public Speaking Championship tournament held in Chicago. A young woman on the team, Pariya Beheshti, contributed to our team’s success by claiming a silver medal with her persuasive speech on “Relaxed Biosecurity.” 

Pariya’s speech explained that, as early as 2006, the phrase “lax biosecurity” had been used to describe the known crisis of diseases being imported into our country. While politicians play political chess at our borders, one issue that is more important and often overlooked is the state of health issues as they relate to both sides of the border. Diseases do not recognize borders, and because this truth has been ignored for decades, diseases such as, but not limited to malaria, polio, hepatitis, tuberculosis, and such rarities of the Third World as dengue fever, chagas’ disease, and leprosy are now surfacing (again this speech was delivered 12 years ago!). 

The speech further contended that there have also been reappearances of diseases that doctors eradicated long ago, as well as the emergence of diseases that never before afflicted us (not unlike the coronavirus). Pariya’s speech declared diseases that cross American borders are “a ticking time bomb that must be addressed, by properly implementing strategic biosecurity measures at our borders to prevent the free flow of diseases.” 

Sadly, the ticking time bomb — that was never addressed — has exploded…COVID-19! This disaster could have been avoided here in the U.S., if not for another problem promoted by our leaders, presenteeism. Presenteeism is the practice of being present for everything, even when you are sick! Ironically, at the 2007 National Championship tournament in Houston, Valley College had a student, Marcus Hill, claim a gold medal with his persuasive speech on “presenteeism.” Marcus’ speech addressed the fact that most people, regardless of how they feel, carry on with the routines of life, be it academic, social, professional, or travel. Most people are determined to stay publicly active, even when they are sick. More often than not, when inconsiderate people share their sore throats, seasonal colds and flus, it’s nothing more than an uncomfortable nuisance. However, as we now know with the coronavirus, while symptoms can seem to be just a mild inconvenience, they can prove to be the sign of something much more deadly, and spread around the globe into a pandemic. 

Marcus argued that, even with the constant murmurs of exotic flus from all around the world, the U.S. does not have any comprehensive methods, or plans to battle a pandemic, but in the meantime what can be promoted is encouraging people to not practice presenteesim when sick. Presenteeism is the most efficient way to spread disease; and not just at work, but at the store, the gym, the movie theater, the bus or plane…and when unrestrained, across borders! In 2007 and in 2008, two community college students had enough foresight to speak up about “relaxed biosecurity” at our borders, and the pandemic threat of practicing “presenteesim.” 

The students used research, truth and facts that our leaders have ignored for decades. Now we’re all forced to negotiate the consequences of the complacency practiced by our elected officials, COVID-19. People are dying. Our economy is crumbling. Most Americans are confined to their homes. And when we go out “for essentials” we have to wear silly masks, and practice social distancing.

On March 17, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said, “We all need to practice common sense.” I wonder if we can expect the same from him, and our other government leaders moving forward? I pray that our leaders will employ the common sense of heightened biosecurity at our borders, and will prevent the presenteeism of more unwanted diseases into our nation.

Duane Smith

Professor, Los Angeles Valley College

Agua Dulce

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