Optimism in the face of Uncertainty

I am fundamentally optimistic about our future because I see that most of us do understand that we are in difficult and uncertain times.  That realism is what will get us through.

I see realism in my correspondence from constituents and that realism was quantified in a recent survey I ran online to which 2,662 constituents responded.  In that sample, 95% support Massachusetts’ social distancing policies or feel we should go further and 96% expect we will take a long time to get back to normal or will have to adapt to a permanent new normal.

I am entirely convinced by the expert opinion that our policies have saved many lives. Without social distancing many more would have gotten the disease simultaneously, overwhelming our health care system.  And given the sustained plateau of high infection rates in Massachusetts, now is not the time to let up.

As clear as it is in my mind that we have the right strategy at the moment, I am completely uncertain beyond the next few weeks.  We will just have to keep looking at the facts as best we can discern them, listening to the experts to the extent they agree, and working together to make decisions.

Most of the efforts of the Commonwealth’s leaders in the public and private sectors have been devoted to solving immediate problems – growing testing operations, growing supplies of personal protective equipment, growing capacity in the hospitals to handle the surge, and providing immediate relief for the newly unemployed.  But as it now seems that we will get through the surge without a systemic breakdown, people are starting to ask questions about the future.

At this point, we have many more questions than answers.  No one knows the future course of the epidemic.  We do know that a majority of people have not yet been infected, so there is the potential for a sustained continuation of the epidemic.  Even if we get it fully under control, as it surges in different parts of the country and around the world, it will have the potential to return here.

We do not know whether people who have experienced the illness will sustain immunity.   Coronavirus disease could turn out to be like the flu but more dangerous – continuing to mutate, continuing to return seasonally with greater or lesser virulence, reinfecting people repeatedly, and defeating our scientists’ best efforts to develop a completely effective treatment or vaccination.

We have recently enjoyed a period of enormous prosperity where almost everyone was working and much of the employment was in crowded service sector venues – coffee shops, restaurants, hotels, air travel, resorts, conventions, exercise clubs. 

Even if social distancing policies are lifted, many people will continue to reduce their exposure to coronavirus.  Even when previously healthy businesses reopen, the reduced volume may make them unprofitable.  In time, new business models will emerge, but no one can see those models clearly yet.  How the continued business difficulties will ripple through the economy is another fundamental uncertainty.

On top of the scientific and economic uncertainties, we have political uncertainty.  While the federal government has stepped up significantly so far, providing enormous and necessary relief to the millions of newly unemployed people, we cannot predict how long that consensus for action will last or how far it will extend.  And those political uncertainties are replicated across the world.

In Massachusetts, we have a Governor and an administration around him that are trying to understand reality and pro-actively respond to the facts as they emerge.  I see the same realism among my colleagues in the legislature and also in the judicial branch.  I hear the same realism in most of my correspondence with constituents.  And I see a bias towards action – at all levels, most people are responding to reality and doing what they can do to solve the problems before them.

Our active realism is what gives me a lot of faith in our future. 

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

58 replies on “Optimism in the face of Uncertainty”

  1. One huge positive to this episode is that we — by we I mean the entire global community — is going to emerge knowing way way more about preventing/controlling viral epidemics than we do now. Up until now anti-virus research has been handicapped by low frequency of the precipitating events, which, given the nature of our system, has lowered the incentives to work the issue. Those days are over. Scientists all around the world are concentrating on anti-viral vaccines and therapies. For instance, we will probably come to understand the structure of viruses so well that we will be able to find stable structures for therapeutic agents to attack across many virus types, structures that do not mutate without “killing” the agent. (If we can’t find one of those in the virus, we can look for the equivalent in hosts.) So this might be the last epidemic ever. Our sufferings are keeping future populations safe.

    1. All valid and hopefully, true Mr Hapgood…thank you…but let us not forget that a Pandemic Respones team at the federal level needs to be reinstitued and up and running immediately.

    2. Notice everyone is suffering or sacrificing in some way EXCEPT the politicians who caused the shut down. Any of them donating money to the unemployed, volunteering help at food banks , etc.?

      1. Correct, and the politicians can’t be laid off nor can state and city personnel. They’re immune.

      2. Yes — many of the politicians I know are doing exactly that – delivering food and diapers to families in need, helping out in food banks, connecting donors with organizations in need.

      3. The politicians did not “cause” the shutdown, a killer virus that has taken 60,000 (and counting) American lives did.

      4. ……..in Boston, I saw politicians and their staff delivering food to our community, the Fenway & the Back Bay, & in the Roxbury community I saw a politician passing out face masks at the Dudley (Nubian) Square T stop, so pls make sure of your facts before you criticize them Gordon because some are really trying to help.

    3. I think that Nature is likely to find a way to kill an excess of human population (or any other species) no matter what we do science-wise. Doing everything we can to enable and sustain human overpopulation, which is in conflict with the ecological integrity of the planet, is not going to fly.

      1. I concur with your assessment Eva. Human population continues to rise and our planet is under continued ecological stress caused by overpopulation and a lack of concern about the finite resources humans consume. We are the most intelligent species but we are blind to our wasteful behavior.

  2. I appreciate the calm and reasonable tone of your remarks here, Will, and share your admiration for the competent–and courageous–performance of our health and other front-line workers.
    For all its wrenching difficulties, though, the epidemic itself may be a simpler problem than the economic recovery. As your remarks suggest, the President’s silly notion that we just turn a crank and “restart the economy” doesn’t match the reality that we will live and work in very new and different ways going forward.
    With that in mind, I would like to hear more from you and other officials about how we can inflect the recovery from this economic depression so that we are simultaneously addressing the even bigger long-term crisis of the environment and climate change. As we approach 30% ( ! ) unemployment in the Commonwealth, with many laid off from jobs that won’t return, can we find a way to direct these workers into sustainable housing construction and retrofits, solar and wind energy generation, electrification of our transportation sector, and so on? That is the next great challenge for our leaders and policy-makers–and it needs to happen with all possible speed.

    1. All very good points considering it comes from someone who apparently thinks he can control climate change. Mother Nature has been changing the climate for millions of years, not just the 30 or 40 years or so the “experts” look at.

    2. I agree with Brent as taking this as an opportunity to redirect our economy toward a sustainable one.

    3. Speaking of climate change what are we going to do with public transportation? Just before the virus hit I began taking some of my trips into Boston using the MBTA. As an elderly person in fair/poor health I will no longer be taking it unless they can give me 6 feet of room between me and the other passengers and they make me feel like it is fairly virus free. I must wonder how many other people feel as I do?

      1. John, many people feel like you, and will be avoiding public transit like the plague (maybe except the young ones who feel invincible). No one knows how long the virus will remain in our environment, but I think that continuing growth of very dense cities is in question. It’s not a healthy or natural way for people to live. Most office workers should be working at home (to cut down on transit-related emissions), or coming to the office only infrequently. This also means there is no reason for many workers to live in small apartments in the city. Homebuyers and renters will be looking for homes that allow them to comfortably work from home.

      2. I am sure Many people feel the same way as you feel about the MBTA . It is going to be a big change for Many people that take the MBTA every Day . It would be very hard to be six feet part from People on the MBTA . I know on Rush hour on weekday it would be hard to be Six Feet Part from People on the MBTA .

    4. Thanks, Brent. Agreed, the challenge of how to come out of the recession will be huge. We are starting to think about that, but cognizant of the uncertainty we face about where we stand with the epidemic.

  3. I am happy all of the Northeast states are in agreement on the lockdown. Watching other states starting to open when not nearly enough testing been done plus their death rate is still too high. That being said I worry on the federal level the focus isn’t supporting people to stay home which is where lot of debate on reopening. Lack of income while still cost of living is still a thing (even the bill to stop foreclosure has problems since many will never be able to pay the couple months they lost their jobs) is causing many to be scared of their future. I know the state can do only so much but it is a problem that I don’t see is going to be solved in the next bill of theirs.

    1. Have you not noticed that states that did not shut down are not having those problems?

      1. Would you name a few examples of those states? Are they possibly less affected b/c they:
        0 Do not have urban centers, where significant density or poverty issues exacerbate this public health crisis?
        0 Do not have significant transient populations (either native/residents traveling on business, or large #s of “visitors” bringing CV19 to that state?

    2. We cannot stay in lock down mode much longer and we must BEGIN the process to re-open in stages with the next 4-6 weeks or we will pay a terrible price.

    3. Lack of income is a policy choice. Not an inevitable outcome. It’s a choice that only America made among developed nations.

  4. If the present situation continues, the economy will get much worse, and Trump will definitely not get re-elected, which for some people is precisely the goal.

    People are being hurt because they cannot see their doctor for routine exams and important procedures. Hospital staff are being laid off.
    You won’t hear much about that in the mainstream media or by certain politicians.

    Here is an article titled “Opinion: We now have the data — and science is saying to end the draconian lockdowns” that you are not going to read in the mainstream media because the mainstream media has a particular partisan political agenda:


    Here is an informative video by two doctors that the mainstream media and many politicians with an agenda don’t want you to see because it does not fit their agenda:


  5. Who are these “experts” that continue to focus on everything that can go wrong. Wasn’t the goal of mitigation to flatten the curve and buy us time to learn how to treat the virus while not overwhelming healthcare system. I don’t see our hospitals being overrun? It looks like social distancing worked but can we say for sure that we’d have patients overflowing hospitals without such drastic distancing measures. Why are so many people fine with our freedom continuing to be taken away and our great economy going down the toilet? Where are the models that quantify the loss of life from the economic impact, people postponing medical procedures / Dr’s visits, children’s education, etc…
    Is it okay for people to be shaming and confronting individuals jogging / cycling for not wearing masks – are you f-ing serious? It’s time to care for those that are high risk and let the rest of the country get back to living! We can’t eliminate all risk, the time is here to stop with all the fear doom & gloom and open up America.

  6. First I am really proud of our leadership working across party lines. Charlie Baker has done an excellent job and should be recognized for that. He statements are factual and based on real information something I wish our president should learn to do.

    The cost of this is going to be enormous and when all is said and done paying for it will be a challenge. To make matters worse many small businesses will not survive which is why buying locally will be important.

    PPE is for everyone these days and I wish the governor would issue an executive order for the citizens to wear face masks in public places ( but not while your behind the wheel of a motor vehicle)

    Lastly, thank you will for always staying in touch and doing your job – I wish more people who seek public office had the dedication you do

  7. Will…perhaps you can answer a question here for the “public”. We are supposedly dealing with an emergency. The Government has assumed essentially unrestricted, dictatorial powers to seize and shutter a wide range of private businesses and activities. After all, it is an EMERGENCY, right? Meanwhile, those happy folks on the Government payrolls (including you no doubt) are all still receiving 100% of their pay and bene’s, plus, for most, receiving that income while on paid vacation at home, waiting for their added bonus checks to come from the feds! Is it any wonder there is so much enthusiasm among the “public sector” for extending the shutdown (doubtless the overwhelming majority of your survey respondents)? Meanwhile, us private sector folks have our livelihoods strangled whilst of course being forced to pay spiralingproperty and income taxes to support these folks and their lavish, lifetime guaranteed benefits.

    So, Will, how about, say 25% across-the-board reduction in Goverment employee pay during the emergency? How about 25% of everything over 100 k$? If this well and truly is an “emergency”, why is 100% of the suffering being imposed on a select subset of taxPAYERS as compared to comfortable tax consumers?

    1. Reduce civil service pay? Those folks already pay a big chunk of their modest income in taxes. How about cutting the War Department’s budget by 50% and forcing the billionaires to pay their fair share? Also make the Fortune 500 cough up. A lot of them pay little or nothing in taxes. While we’re at it, let’s turn health care funding entirely over to Medicare. Single payer, free-at-point-of-delivery health care would eliminate the parasitic private insurers and save us trillions of dollars. In order for states to become solvent and essential programs to be adequately funded, the federal government has to be be turned around. End the endless imperial wars, tax the rich, institute Medicare for all. Otherwise the waste will continue.

    2. We need to get this drivel out of public discussion.

      Support for shutdown is overwhelming everywhere, even in states like MI with Call of Duty cosplayers throwing tantrums on TV so they can get their roots done. Only a slender group of fringe cultists and their AstroTurf sponsors are calling for all the doors to fling open.

    1. They are definitely being protected from eviction. And, in some cases, not enough, they are being protected from accruing back rent by programs like RAFT that support rent payments. Let’s also keep in mind the extra unemploment insurance payments that are there to help stabilize households.

  8. Dear Will,
    Now is the time to plan out for the longer term, especially for the older/more medically brittle part of the population. Clearly at some point we will start letting up on the social distancing, *but* some people will not be able to. There are some things we can do to make this easier. For example:
    – continue “senior shopping hours” — maybe even add some time, so seniors can get there shopping done before the hour is over.
    – implement and enforce a required facial covering in Boston, even if only during the same hours seniors are trying to get out to shop. (In Brighton only 10-20% of walkers seem to be wearing coverings).
    – make it easier/cheaper to secure better face masks for seniors/medically brittle.


  9. The realism that you see in your constituents doesn’t square with your optimism. Realism means seeing the world outside of your self with objectivity and as true as best as you can ascertain. Optimism is a subjective category. Most of your constituents were optimistic in 2016. They weren’t realistic.

  10. I’d like to look at 2 things: first, the more or less immediate future and the careful reopening. Open too soon/too fast, and we’ll have a bigger spike that this one. The unemployed can be supported; the small businesses too. We can’t resurrect the dead. Does the market serve us humans, or do we exist to serve the market? Which leads to 2: the “new normal.” This is our chance to make sure things CHANGE so the superrich and the huge corporations don’t always get first in line, and the bottom 3rd of the population always loses.

    1. THANKS Jennifer

      AND thanks Will for your report and always being in touch with your constituents


    2. How about people who can’t get even routine exams these days and can’t get important surgeries?
      Have you considered that toll?
      I am not the first one to say this.
      Democrats don’t want to hear it though.

      1. We all see how difficult it has been for you to forgo your psychiatric appointments.

  11. “Even when previously healthy businesses reopen, the reduced volume may make them unprofitable. In time, new business models will emerge, but no one can see those models clearly yet. How the continued business difficulties will ripple through the economy is another fundamental uncertainty.”
    This, absolutely. And that new business model begins with rent. Commercial landlords and leasing agents must fundamentally grasp the concept that if they don’t take some of the financial hit now in this, they will lose tenants in the long term and those empty storefronts will stay dark because there won’t be any new businesses to take their place either. Their tenants are taking a significant hit to income (in many cases ZERO income) but by and large, they or they bond holders refuse to do the same. Not sure if there’s really any legislative action to take here, but without some concessions we’re going to be looking at the demise of most small businesses and empty storefronts all over the place – except for those few that get converted to yet another bank or homogenous national chains – or perhaps amazon storefronts. :/

    1. This needs to be said. The rent seeking class really believes financial time can go forward at its normal pace even while the real economy stops. A wake up call is here.

  12. The Swedish example of attempting to hasten herd immunity with widespread social interaction needs your thoughtful evaluation in the context of your supporting the currently-encouraged self-isolation. Is there some plausible benefit for considering a transition to herd immunity initiatives? How will the current self-isolation delay the ultimately-necessary herd immunity? What say your scientific advisers, and what say you who are so very thoughtful on complex subjects?

    1. Peter, in my opinion the idea is to extend the lockdown as long as possible so that the economy goes into a depression and unemployment (now at 30 million) goes up and up with the result that Trump will not be re-elected.
      That’s the whole point: sabotage in pursuit of what leading Democrats believe is an enemy (Trump) bigger than Covid-19.

      If the economy and people must suffer and worse, therefore, so be it. It’s true.

      That’s why Pelosi won’t come back to Washington.

      What do you expect from a political party that doesn’t care if illegals with Covid-19 cross the border?

      1. Dee, why don’t you try your dear leader’s suggestions to incorporate disinfectant into your health regimen?

    2. You might want to look at the actual numbers Sweden has achieved. They have multiples of their neighbors’ death rates while still seeing almost the same damage to their economy. Even human sacrifice is not enough to appease the capitalist death cult, as it turns out.

  13. Along with Peter I’ve been considering the Sweden case quite a bit.
    I was one of the 96% of Will’s survey saying we should continue the lockdown. Yet, now I’m not so sure. My hesitation does not arrive just from the Sweden story. It’s my past experience in molecular biology where I worked with recombinant DNA and discovered how viruses elude the main taxonomic kingdoms. Trickiest little devils extant.

    Which is to say – Given their fundamental operating system, they’ll win the game every time. You have to have a robust, responsive, immune system. You’ve got to let your kids play in the dirt when they’re little, develop antibodies as they grow.
    That said, I want to add my thanks to Will for providing this forum; it is heartening to read the words of so many wise contributors here!

  14. I posted a comment 3 times, but it did not go up.
    Is there something wrong with this webpage, or do you not like dissenting views with legitimate links?

  15. Perhaps the gloom and doom sentiments about the post-peak course of the virus are not justified. Countries that are past the peak, like Korea and China are returning to normal and have not experienced any serious reinfections. So we should see what we can learn from their experiences and move to return to a normal economy.

  16. The governor’s reopening committee has no labor representation whatsoever. Perhaps not surprising since most labor lacks representation these days.

    While I have the luxury to work from home and social distance I can’t help but note that only something like 1/3 of the non-retired population is so fortunate. When we get to opening more up, it seems not right that the people we now deem essential and the ones we later may also put in a position of choosing between risk and no income don’t have any say on this committee. I hope at least that we’re not like Iowa where the political leaders threaten to deny uninsurance to those who don’t want to go into work and little effort is made to keep them safe.

    I worry for our undocumented too.

    Seems like we should be considering radical action that recognizes the scale and nature of the economic hit (but not by ignoring realities of how a virus spreads) and tries harder to right the inequity. Maybe that will mean taking on a lot of debt. Maybe it will mean making business leaders, chambers of commerces, etc. uncomfortable or at least talking to more kinds of people than the usual upper strata. And the idea expressed elsewhere that politicians should show their worth or account for shutting things down with volunteerism, that’s not here nor there nor useful. The solutions must be systematic and institutional: legislation and executive action.

    1. It is inexcusable to go forward without labor representation at a time when people are dying from working at Walmart for minimum wage.

  17. Will,

    My wife and I want to thank you for all you do for us, and how you keep us fully informed. Many extremist positions have been expressed in these comments, positions which in no way contribute to working together to find solutions. Attacking each other is a recipe for disaster. I for one am willing to work with anyone who is not of my political persuasion, for the common good.
    Let’s pull together.

  18. And now, the CDC guidance report on how societies should reopen safely…has been shelved?

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