In the worst-hit cities in America, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, lab technicians, and other medical professionals have been working past the point of exhaustion, risking their health and lives to test and treat those infected with COVID-19.1
Here and elsewhere, doctors have even risked government censure in their efforts to track and extinguish the virus. Li Wenliang, the Chinese doctor who first warned colleagues about a new SARS-like virus, was summoned by police in Wuhan and forced to confess his “crime” of spreading “rumors” about the virus online.2 Seattle-based infectious disease expert Helen Chu defied state and federal officials by repurposing her ongoing flu-tracking study to track the spread of COVID-19.3
Dauntless medical professionals such as these—taking life-promoting actions amid such risks—are heroes. And, fortunately, they are not the only ones working tirelessly to produce life-enhancing values in the face of the pandemic and the destructive government responses to it.
The men and women of the energy industry—those involved in mining resources, operating power plants, and repairing power lines—ensure that the lights stay on and that vital equipment keeps running in our hospitals and homes.
Internet providers and services such as Zoom and Google Meet enable us to stay connected to family and colleagues. Content providers such as Audible, Netflix, and Hulu keep us entertained. And online retailers such as Amazon and Chewy supply us with the goods we need during the lockdowns.
And then there are the many people who keep us fed. Farmers continue to grow food despite regulations that keep them from selling much of it and decreased demand caused by the shuttering of restaurants. Truckers, delivery drivers, and grocery store employees routinely risk exposure while getting that food and other necessities to market.
Manufacturers in several industries are retooling and reorganizing operations in order to produce medical equipment. SpaceX and Tesla, among others, are using their manufacturing muscle to produce ventilators.4 Clothing manufacturers such as L. L. Bean and New Balance are producing face masks and medical gowns. Hockey equipment manufacturer Bauer is making face shields.5
A plethora of small businesses also serve as uplifting examples of heroic ingenuity. Many have adapted rapidly, saving their businesses or starting new ones that supply in-demand goods and services.
One such person is Anthony Strong, owner of a restaurant, Prairie, in San Francisco. Strong understood that being forced to close his doors would drive him out of business. He also figured that, with many restaurants delivering meals, the market would soon become saturated with takeout options. So he concluded that the best way to save his restaurant was to turn it into a grocery store by selling his uncooked ingredients—as well as essentials such as toilet paper.6 Strong told reporters, “I started working on our ‘what if’ strategy [in early March]. . . . I don’t even know if it’s working at all yet. I know we’re getting people food and keeping our lights on. We’re gonna do it as long as we can.”7 Strong’s idea has caught on, and other restaurants around the country are following suit, including national chains such as Subway and Panera.8
My favorite local brewpub and distillery in Madison, Alabama, Old Black Bear, has converted some of its liquor stills to produce hand sanitizer, which it is selling to other local businesses. Owner Todd Seaton says that there are “a lot of factories that still have to keep their workers healthy, and we’re going to focus on providing them with half-gallon to five-gallon drums [of sanitizer] just to keep them going for now.”9
When lockdowns were first instituted, Seaton had to close down his restaurant and taproom, reducing sales by about 75 percent, a loss that required him to lay off much of his staff. But by quickly shifting to sanitizer production, he’s been able to remain in business. He estimates that he will recoup the cost of converting his stills within two weeks, having already sold about eighty gallons of hand sanitizer.10
Some business owners are forming new partnerships in order to produce medical supplies. John Miller, president of medical manufacturer SUPERB Industries in Sugarcreek, Ohio, assembled a coalition of local business owners and approximately ten thousand members of local Amish communities. Together, they’re using Tyvek house wrap to make medical gowns and boot covers. Miller estimates that “at full scale,” they “have the capacity to make hundreds of thousands of these products a week.”11
These adaptive business owners are making lemonade from the sourest of lemons, forging new ventures and finding ways to create win-win relationships while assisting in the COVID-19 response.
All of these heroes—from medical professionals to corporations to small business owners and countless others—demonstrate that to the extent that individuals are free to act according to their own judgment, they can, and often do, triumph over tragedy. To all who continue to create the values on which our lives and happiness depend, thank you!
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1. Dhruv Khullar, “‘Adrenaline, Duty, and Fear’: Inside a New York Hospital Taking on the Coronavirus,” New Yorker, April 3, 2020, https://www.newyorker.com/science/medical-dispatch/new-yorks-hospitals-take-on-the-coronavirus.
2. Michael Bociurkiw, “China’s Hero Doctor Was Punished for Telling Truth About Coronavirus”, CNN, February 11, 2020, https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/08/opinions/coronavirus-bociurkiw/index.html.
3. Sheri Find and Mike Baker, “‘It’s Just Everywhere Already’: How Delays in Testing Set Back the U.S. Coronavirus Response,” New York Times, March 10, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/10/us/coronavirus-testing-delays.html.
4. Mike Wall, “Elon Musk Says He’ll Have 1,200 Ventilators Ready to Deliver This Week,” Space.com, March 24, 2020, https://www.space.com/elon-musk-spacex-tesla-ventilators-coronavirus.html.
5. Victoria McGrane, “Manufacturing a Coronavirus Defense: Companies Like L.L. Bean Transition to Medical Gear Production,” Boston Globe, April 1, 2020, https://www.bostonglobe.com/2020/04/01/nation/manufacturing-coronavirus-defense-companies-transition-medical-gear-production.
6. Amy Graff, “How a San Francisco Restaurant Reinvented Itself to Survive in the Age of COVID-19,” SFGATE, March 30, 2020, https://www.sfgate.com/food/article/Prairie-restaurant-general-store-San-Francisco-15163737.php.
7. Noelle Bellow, “Restaurant Converts to General Store in San Francisco During Coronavirus Pandemic,” KRON 4, March 18, 2020, https://www.kron4.com/news/bay-area/restaurant-converts-to-general-store-in-san-francisco-during-coronavirus-pandemic/.
8. Kate Taylor, “Chains Like Subway and Panera Are Selling Groceries, Including Loaves of Bread, Milk, and Even Toilet Paper, As Grocery Stores Struggle with Shortages and Long Wait Times,” Business Insider, April 8, 2020, https://www.businessinsider.com/coronavirus-subway-panera-and-other-chains-roll-out-grocery-2020-4.
9. Madison Neal, “Black Bear Brewing Company Making Hand Sanitizer to Fight Pandemic,” WHNT 19 News, April 8, 2020, https://whnt.com/community/bright-spot/black-bear-brewing-company-making-hand-sanitizer-to-fight-pandemic/.
10. Madison Neal, “Brewing Company Making Hand Sanitizer.”
11. Anna Huntsman, “Amish Country Businesses Scaling Production to Make Medical Protective Gear,” ideastream, March 27, 2020, https://www.ideastream.org/news/amish-country-businesses-scaling-production-to-make-medical-protective-gear.