People watch a TV screen showing a live broadcast of U.S. President Donald Trump's speech at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, March 12, 2020. Trump announced he is cutting off travel from Europe to the U.S. and moving to ease the economic cost of a viral pandemic that is roiling global financial markets and disrupting the daily lives of Americans. The Korean letters read: "Trump national speech." (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

The email cry for help came from a colleague whom I've never met in person. He'd been invited to give the invocation at the Governor's Prayer Breakfast in Seattle, the epicenter of the coronavirus. My gut reaction was "Run Away! Run Away!" But I settled down when he wanted assistance writing his speech. I appreciate the power of words, especially in chaotic times, and they flowed from my brain to my computer and across cyberspace to help inspire calm, kindness and compassion.

I struggled with adding hope to that list. I was watching the stock market swing like a balloon in a hurricane. I heard reports of schools closing. Harvard gave students just five days to "de-densify" the premises and take classes online. I figure my big Harvard reunion in May will be cancelled.

When the coronavirus first spread in China, I asked my cousin who'd worked in Asia years ago if Americans would just look the other way. Cousin doubted Americans would pay attention, at least not yet.

But we've shifted. Empty pharmacy shelves, lockdown quarantines and travel restrictions are the new normal as are the terms "community spread" and "self-quarantine."

We're far from the beginning when the World Health Organization (WHO) congratulated China's leader on his quick response and delayed calling it a pandemic until this week. Why, you might ask. Follow the money.

Scientists created simulations showing that such a disease might kill 65 million people over 18 months. But the simulations weren't focused on deaths. The intent was to highlight the potential loss of $750 billion globally and the societal and economic consequences.

The economy is a major reason why China delayed sharing how the virus could be spread from human to human. Meanwhile, a Chinese whistleblower doctor mysteriously disappeared, and reports surfaced of his contracting the virus and dying. But as public outrage grew, officials overrode those reports, saying that he was alive and under medical care. Later, they announced, with great compassion, that everything possible had been done, but he succumbed. Why do this?

The Chinese government desperately needed to cover up their lack of foresight and oversight. WHO didn't want to add to economic and social dissolution. It was distract and suppress. U.S. health officials rebuked China over it until we joined the distract and suppress game.

The White House reassured us that all was under control, and the epidemic would soon be over. Buy some stocks, the bad down days of the Dow are done. Go to work because you're bound to recover eventually. Upset about the growing number of deaths? Those folks were old and frail and would have croaked soon anyway.

The White House also silenced whistleblower claims. They denied overruling the CDC plan to tell seniors to avoid air travel. Saving the airline industry from tanking took precedence over saving lives. Yet we're not traveling for pleasure or attending conferences. Deflection will not change that we're working from home, conferencing by Skype and Zoom, livestreaming sports and ordering groceries online.

A Chattanooga friend, Paul Iverson, said that these time-saving strategies, already popular, are sure to become global self-isolating habits. Further, our social and economic lives won't give up those habits when the coronavirus passes. We're experiencing a monumental social and economic shift, well beyond the virus itself.

Distract and suppress may deflect temporarily, but that shift is coming. So say your prayers, keep those wipes handy, and get your email in-box ready.

Contact Deborah Levine, an author, trainer/coach and editor of the American Diversity Report, at

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Deborah Levine / Staff file photo by C.B. Schmelter