Local Opinion: The virus is still a threat, but youth will save us
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Local Opinion: The virus is still a threat, but youth will save us

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The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer.

My life’s work is studying and promoting effective leadership strategies. But few times have required effective leadership more than during this COVID-19 pandemic. The stakes are high — estimates show 1.5 million confirmed cases with over 90,000 deaths and 273,000 recoveries in the United States.

As states move out of “shelter-in-place” mandates with this poorly understood virus, confusion reigns supreme. We know safety measures are still very needed. The virus is not gone, and we don’t have a vaccine or proven cure.

Yet, as images of people gathering and not social-distancing around the country show, clarity is needed. Changing stay-at-home mandates does not mean the virus is no longer a threat. It means proceed with caution to avoid infection spikes.

The White House and other leaders across the nation must unite to promote a clear national message: “The virus is still a threat, minimize your exposure, don’t be reckless and don’t endanger others.”

Experts agree we must continue to wear a mask, wash our hands and continue social-distancing. Without collaborative leadership, states scramble for necessary resources, as conflicting information, ever-changing mandates, tweets and sound bites confuse the public. Confusion is leading to dangerous behaviors.

In scenes straight out of Hollywood, armed demonstrators try to intimidate elected officials into changing virus protocols, a store clerk is shot for asking customers to wear masks, others are attacked for not social-distancing and Asians are assaulted for supposedly causing the flu. We are better than this.

Clearly, there are different ways to lead effectively, but in times of crisis, we need collaborative, inspirational, evidence-based leaders. Unilateral decisions against expert counsel show poor leadership and lead to missteps.

As challenges and inequalities multiply, we need leaders to heal and unite us across the aisle and across the world.

Essential workers affected by systemic inequities need careful attention from strong leaders. Many lack medical coverage, a livable wage or hazard pay in our hospitals, grocery stores, fields and food production. They need support regardless of country of origin, immigration status, ability, language, sexual orientation or political affiliation.

We can all learn from young leaders fighting for a better world. Greta Thunberg, a disruptive leader at 15, used clear, compelling data to lobby the United Nations. She inspired 85 countries to unite for the largest demonstration recorded worldwide.

Mari Copeny, aka “Little Miss Flint,” a collaborative leader at 8 years old, united her community around Michigan’s contaminated water. She requested a meeting with President Barack Obama, and the community received $100 million in grants to repair the water system.

Malala Yousafzai, a change agent and the youngest Nobel Peace Prize laureate ever at 15, was shot in the face for speaking out against the Taliban’s ban on girls’ education. Malala uses data and clearly describes problems as she unites others and fights discrimination, child marriage and advocates for education for girls.

Valerie Xu, a 15-year-old service leader, raised money to buy over 10,000 protective masks for health workers in response to assaults and racial slurs against Asian Americans. She collaborated with her community to send a clear message. “Asians want everyone to be safe, and hatred toward Asian Americans must stop.”

COVID-19 threatens us all, especially our children’s future. I worry about my fun, chatty grandbaby. With parents working at home, we laugh when she says, “Nana, I can’t talk, I have to take a call.”

Clearly, this is no laughing matter. Regardless of party affiliation, collaborative leaders must provide uniting messages and actions so we can thrive and emerge stronger as a nation.

Sofía Martínez Ramos, M.B.A., Ph.D., is president of Luminario Education Strategies and is an education, career and leadership consultant.

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