MICHAEL RYAN: Who We Really Are

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Over the past month and a half, we’ve all been deluged by the onslaught of increasingly graphic images, shockingly grim statistics, and unsettling tales of horrible personal behavior related to COVID-19. Since this represents one of the most serious health threats to confront mankind in more than a century, it should come as no surprise that this story has come to dominate every media distribution channel. It’s important to remember
that news organizations provide a valuable service in helping educate the public on the nature of such threats and, at times, can even help to effectively mobilize a society into action.

But the tendency for our hyper-competitive media culture to sensationalize current events often ends up distorting the truth. It’s not that the statistics quoted, images displayed, and behaviors chronicled are inaccurate.

Rather, it’s that they are incomplete. Most media accounts are based in some measure upon some expert’s assessment, relatable set of facts, or discretely observable event. But they are typically framed in a manner that  will best garner a viewer, reader, or listener’s attention. So it is through these narrowly focused filters that we end up consuming much of our information on current events.

I’ll leave it to the experts in the medical field to critique the robustness and accuracy of the media’s depiction of the public health response to the current crisis. What I will take issue with instead is the way that much of  ur society is being caricatured by the media.

By now we’ve all seen the footage of clueless college kids on spring break partying in crowded bars and on densely packed beaches; frenzied shoppers knocking each other senseless over rolls of toilet paper and bottles of Purell; and self-indulgent celebrities insistent upon maintaining hedonistic lifestyles. But I believe this presents an incomplete and therefore broadly misleading picture of our society.

So who are we?

We are medical professionals like Dr. Ernie Vomero, Dr. Neil Murphy, R.N. Lauren Schianodicola, and R.N. Kelly Fitzpatrick who are working multiple shifts on the front lines of New York’s hardest hit hospitals to help save lives and provide comfort to the suffering;

We are public health officials like Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Robert Redfield, and Dr. Nathaniel Hupert who are helping to educate the public on how to protect themselves and others, while also directing stretched public health resources to those in most urgent need;

We are clergy like Fr. Don Giuseppe Berardelli of Italy who died on 15 March at a hospital in Italy after selflessly declining the use of a ventilator so that another ill patient could be saved;

We are regular people like pizzeria owner Bryan Morin, who took out a personal loan to pay his workers; Sasha Kottemeier, who gathered donations of medical supplies for his local hospital; and Steve Beasley, who delivered over 2,000 N95 respirator masks to NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital;

We are the scientists, epidemiologists, and technicians toiling around the clock to develop the diagnostic tools, therapeutic medicines, and vaccines to defeat this disease;

We are the first responders who ride in squad cars, firetrucks, and ambulances every day and night to answer the call to keep our communities safe;

We are the people of New York City who gather each night on balconies and hang out windows to cheer on healthcare workers during shift changes at the local hospital;

We are the people in Lexington, KY and Stonington, CT ringing our church bells in solidarity and support, and the citizens in San Diego and Seattle that have strung up Christmas lights to provide some cheer or hung out American flags to show their pride;

We are the countless individuals within communities across the country who have reached out to elderly neighbors, supported healthcare workers, donated money, volunteered time, and performed essential services.

Some might argue that this all amounts to little more than a feel-good story meant to anesthetize us to the constant drumbeat of bad news and therefore simply dismiss it. But they would be wrong.

In fact, theycould not be more wrong. Keep in mind that investing requires access to all available information. And one of the most unpredictable and powerful variables that investors need to take into account is human behavior. How we choose to interact and the manner in which we engage with one another is the real wildcard here. So far, the media has mostly focused upon the consequences from the thoughtless actions of the selfish
and careless acts of the foolish. But what they may have failed to fully appreciate is what can happen when the very best and the very brightest on this planet unite for a singular purpose to combat a common foe.

Because that is also who we are.

Michael Ryan, CFA, Chief Investment Officer Americas, UBS Financial Services Inc.