Recently I reached out to our state’s most prominent coronavirus sufferer, former Gov. David Beasley, with some questions about what he was going through. It took him a few days to get back to me — he naturally waited until he felt up to it. But he sent me these replies on Friday (and I only saw them in my woefully neglected inbox today).
To update y’all, these days the former guv serves as executive director of the United Nations World Food Programme. Mr. Beasley felt ill after returning from a trip to Canada in mid-March, and self-quarantined for several days before testing positive for the coronavirus.
Q: How are you feeling?
A: I am definitely at the end of this now, with several days in a row feeling good. I feel stronger and much better. I took a walk of about a mile on the farm yesterday and it felt great. While I am doing good now, there were days when I had fever, aches, sore throat, congestion and was very tired. But never felt just awful, nor did I have extremely high fever. Just a general blahhhh.
Q: Are you at home?
A: Yes, I am at home and self-quarantined. Mary Wood is bringing me food through a door!
Q: Is the rest of your family well?
A: Thankfully, as of today, everyone is doing good.
Q: How did this come on? When did you suspect you had the virus? Where were you at the time?
A: I began to feel bad when I returned from a WFP trip a little more than three weeks ago. At first I thought it was just allergies. I had been tested twice before and both were negative. But this time, it was positive.
Q: As head of the World Food Programme, how do you see the coronavirus affecting food supplies around the world? And what should we be doing to address those effects?
A: This is a complex issue, but I’m very concerned about the overall impact the virus and this crisis is going to make on those who are hungry around the world in a number of areas. First, I’m concerned about the health impact. People who have to struggle every day to feed themselves or their families aren’t able to stockpile a couple of week’s worth of food while they stay at home to protect themselves against the virus, and at the same time their immune systems are weak. So they are very vulnerable to disease and, at the same time, they are out there, working in their fields or doing what it takes to find food. If the virus spreads to their communities, they will have much fewer resources to stem its spread and a much weaker immunological system.
Secondly, I’m concerned about the economic damage this is doing or going to do to countries that already are struggling or that are unstable politically. And, to get to the heart of your question, one of the areas that could sustain damage is the complex global food supply system. There’s no doubt that that supply system will be tested and strained in the coming weeks or months. As of now, the good news is that disruptions appear to be minimal. But April and May could get a lot worse. We’re worried about transportation restrictions and quarantines that could make it even harder for farmers to get access to markets, which is already an issue even in the best of times in places where we work. And we could see labor shortages in production and processing of food, especially in labor-intensive crops, and that could make a real impact on countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
To get at what can be done, you have to know where the problems are, and this is one place that WFP does extremely well — collect and analyze data. When you operate in more than 80 countries and feed 87 million people on any given day, you get pretty good at knowing what’s happening on the ground. So when it comes to food supply chains, we know close to immediately if there are food shortages, supply chain breaks and rapid increases in prices. We’ve already established our early warning system, so we can move right away, doing things like pre-positioning food in areas where we anticipate shortages or other access challenges. Right now, we are working with governments to speed up nearly $2 billion in contributions so we can do those things now, such as pre-position food and pre-purchase buffer stocks of food and cash so we have at least three months of assistance available for the most fragile places. We’ll also need additional resources for logistics, such as air transport. WFP is the main logistical arm of the United Nations — when you see planes taking aid workers to a place that needs help, they’re on one of our planes. We’re delivering needed medical equipment for the World Health Organization, for example. The entire world is now relying on WFP’s logistical network to manage the humanitarian and health response to the coronavirus.
Third, I do want to say that am concerned about the tremendous fiscal pressures that WFP donor governments are going to be under over the next few months. I am hearing encouraging signs from all our donor governments, including the United States, about how important our work is and that they continue to view it as a priority. But I do know many leaders are going to be under tremendous fiscal pressures over the next few months and years. And as for what individuals can do, you can donate to our work by going to wfp.org or wfpusa.org. You can also continue to express to your elected leaders that you believe it is in America’s economic and national security interests to support the work that the World Food Programme does. When countries make progress against hunger, they are more peaceful, more stable and there is less forced migration. That’s good news for all of us! If there’s one thing this virus has taught us, it’s that we are all connected in good times and bad ones.
Q: As a former governor, do you have any advice for Henry McMaster or other leaders on the state and local level?
A: I am certain they are listening closely to the advice of health experts and others, as they should. I’ve been in that position and they have some tough calls to make. I’m sure they are all doing their best to take public health and safety into account as they make decisions about our personal and economic freedoms.
Q: Simply as a person suffering from the virus, what advice do you have for the rest of us on a personal level?
A: This is a serious illness, so take the warnings from health experts seriously. Of course, wash your hands thoroughly and frequently, stay at a safe distance from others, do all the other things health experts say to do, use common sense and take plenty of vitamins that will help your immune system. Trust me, you do not want to get this virus, and you don’t want to contribute to its spread.
Thanks, governor. May your recovery continue at full speed!