Reflections on Great Lakes Day in D.C.
By Joel Brammeier
The planes were wheels up this week as I headed to Washington for Great Lakes Day with hundreds of other lake advocates to underscore the urgent need for continued and strengthened restoration and protection for our lakes. This annual winter event has morphed into a show of strength from the region that lets our leaders know we value their commitment, understand how to solve the problems we face, and are ready and willing to put in the collaborative hard work required.
I was personally honored to be part of a small group invited to the Roosevelt Room in the West Wing of the White House on Feb. 27. We met with Nancy Sutley, White House Council on Environmental Quality chairwoman, and other top-level Obama administration officials to discuss the progress made and work left to do on Great Lakes restoration. I was truly impressed and inspired to see the sincere dedication to the Great Lakes from the highest levels of the administration.
The bipartisan congressional commitment to restoring the Great Lakes has also been remarkable. Even in times of fiscal strain, where seemingly every conversation comes down to cutting dollars and cents, it remains clear that turning our backs on the damage done to the Great Lakes is not an option for many members of Congress. Every dollar we spend on restoration is an investment in the future of the lakes and the people, communities and families that depend on them.
It should come as no surprise, however. Such staunch support doesn’t spring forth from a vacuum. The back story to the leadership shown by Congress and the administration is you. Whether you volunteer, make your voice heard by decision makers or donate to the cause, your individual choices to make the Great Lakes your priority are adding up in a big way. Thank you for making that choice and for telling others why supporting the Great Lakes is the right call.
So what did I hear in Washington this week?
• The crescendo of support for separating the Great Lakes from the Mississippi River to stop the Asian carp and other invaders is near-deafening, but we have to make a commitment for the long haul. This week, we learned that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says it is possible to shorten the timeline for its feasibility study of prevention options. From the White House, counselor to President Obama, Pete Rouse also made it clear the 2015 deadline for this study will be pushed forward. While the specifics have yet to be laid out, we are already working with the administration to define the possibilities and are encouraged by this positive signal. I’m also pleased to see the president requesting significant funding in agency budgets for shorter-term carp controls in his FY13 budget.
• U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are embarking on a collaboration to address nutrient overloading and harmful algae blooms. This is most notable in western Lake Erie, where a bloom in summer 2011 containing massive levels of algae-produced toxins actually moved across the central part of the lake. We simply cannot let Lake Erie slide back to the 1970s and will be looking to the agencies to use every tool at their disposal to cut phosphorus pollution where it counts most for water quality, whether in the farm field or at the end of the pipe.
• Beach closings in communities around the Great Lakes are dropping as we get a better handle on pollution sources. I am proud to have the Alliance partner with local beach managers to implement this work through our Adopt-a-Beach™ Program. Beaches are places where millions of people connect most directly with the lakes—and serve as an economic backbone of coastal communities. Great Lakes cities still face major sewer overflow problems, and we will be working this summer to build support for restoring funding that helps keep combined sewage out of our lakes.
• We still have work to do on ballast water. EPA’s requirement that technology be aboard ships to stop new invaders is a good step, but the timelines for implementation are too long and the EPA draft permit standards lag behind the efforts of states like California and New York. The Alliance just joined detailed comments on this topic last week.
Writing this from a coffee shop across from the White House after three days in D.C. is a good reminder—We should know that all of the above won’t really get done from here. So I’m eager to get wheels up for the Great Lakes and get back to the faces and places that make restoration and protection a reality—because we all have work to do.
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When Leaders and Doctors Spread Misinformation<p>When people in charge of towns, cities, states, and countries spread misinformation, the potential for belief in misinformation to result in policies can have harmful effects.</p><p><a href="https://www.northwell.edu/find-care/find-a-doctor?q=Bruce+E.+Hirsch%2C+MD&insurance=&location=&query_type=provider&physician_partners=false&default_view=list&gender=&language=&sort=relevancy" target="_blank">Dr. Bruce E. Hirsch</a>, attending physician and assistant professor in the infectious disease division of Northwell Health in Manhasset, New York, says an example of this is when President Trump informed the public he was taking hydroxychloroquine as a preventive measure.</p><p>"To approach this enormous challenge, we need some intellectual honesty and clarity, and to disregard expertise and to make decisions and model decisions based on hunches is inviting us to handle challenges on the basis of rumor and uninformed opinion. The magnitude of that error is epic," Hirsch told Healthline.</p><p>Stukus agrees, noting that the harm of this proclamation is documented.</p><p>"Early on when the president touted the benefits of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, people started to hoard this medicine, and state boards had to shut it down because they were getting so many prescriptions for this unproven therapy that it was not available for those who truly needed it, such as those who have lupus and autoimmune conditions," Stukus said.</p><p>He adds that calls to poison control centers increased after the president suggested using disinfectant to prevent contracting the new coronavirus.</p>
Listen to Science, Even When it Changes<p>When recommendations change or evidence flip-flops, skepticism may arise. However, Stukus says change is the beauty of science.</p><p>"That shows us that we can evolve, and if the evidence shows that our prior thoughts were incorrect, we need to be able to change our recommendations and advice based upon the best quality of evidence at the time," he said.</p><p>Pierre agrees.</p><p>"Science is an iterative process, whereby we arrive at facts and truth through repeated and controlled observations. That means that it's inherently self-correcting as we revise conclusions based on ongoing research. Scientific facts aren't immutable dogma chiseled on a tablet. They change based on the best available evidence we have at a given point in time," he said.</p><p>Because research of COVID-19 has only been underway for 6 months, information is evolving rapidly, and new information may contradict old.</p><p>"There's still much we don't know about exactly how [COVID-19] spreads, what effects it has on the body, or how to best treat it. That means that the best available evidence is preliminary, but that doesn't mean that we should ignore it or turn to other sources of information or opinion as if they're just as valid," Pierre said.</p><p>He explains that conspiracy theories based on mistrust lead to vulnerability to misinformation.</p><p>If people mistrust science because it sometimes "changes its mind," Pierre said, "that shouldn't be used to embrace other opinions based on no evidence at all, which are typically selected based on confirmation bias: what we want to believe rather than what the objective evidence supports."</p>
Where to Find the Best Information<p>Stukus says to start with the <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html" target="_blank">CDC</a> and <a href="https://www.nih.gov/health-information/coronavirus" target="_blank">NIH</a>. Then check with your local health officials, because COVID-19 guidelines may vary depending on where you live.</p><p>If you can't find information you need or have questions specifically related to you, call your primary care doctor.</p><p>"Your personal doctor should always be a resource for individual specific questions because they know best how to apply all the nuances retaining to your health, and how to incorporate all the other general [COVID-19] recommendations," Stukus said.</p><p><a href="https://www.eehealth.org/find-a-doctor/b/boyd-laura-b/" target="_blank">Dr. Laura Boyd</a>, primary care physician at Edward-Elmhurst Health Center in Elmhurst, Illinois, says her clinic receives a lot of calls about COVID-19.</p><p>"Most doctors' offices are receiving calls and answering questions, and doing phone or video visits to help clarify and/or order testing over the phone based on patients' symptoms. It is always best to call your doctor's office first instead of worrying about symptoms and waiting too long to seek treatment," she told Healthline.</p><p>If your primary care doctor has limited testing, she suggests looking on your state's public health website for available testing sites.</p><p>With a lot of unknowns related to this virus and disease, Boyd says many patients are feeling overwhelmed and anxious for a treatment.</p><p>"Unfortunately, there is no specific medication recommended for COVID for outpatient. There are a lot of ongoing studies with various drugs going on within the hospital setting. Patients should always contact their doctors about their specific symptoms as they can treat the symptoms that go along with COVID, but there is no cure," Boyd said.</p><p>While we wait for treatment and a vaccine, Hirsch, who treats patients hospitalized for COVID-19 complications on a daily basis, says everyone can do their part by washing hands, wearing a mask, and staying 6 feet apart.</p><p>"As an infectious disease doctor working in the hospital, I see the damage of the pandemic and the worst cases of what's happening. We are trying to get the best possible outcome and confronting this overwhelming biologic reality of this terrible epidemic the best we can," Hirsch said.</p><p>Everyone at home can help in the fight too, he adds.</p><p>"Follow information that is science- and evidence-based, and avoid that which is not," he said.</p>
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