COVID – Where Are Our Leaders?

I can’t end this month without a light-on-facts-but-feelings-filled rant. I hesitate because I wanted to leave the emotions out during this time where people need direction, but I don’t think I can help it.

It’s because of the times that I think we may need a little, impassioned rant.

There’s a lot swirling in my head. Frustration, disgust, anger, fatigue. Mostly it’s grief. I’m grieving the recently and soon-to-be dead doctors, nurses, and citizens of New York City and elsewhere.

I’m hoping for a technological miracle to save everyone, but it seems we’re too far off and too far along to help a few thousand people.

I’m grieving because the pain and the deaths are unnecessary, especially in 2020.

Today’s rant is about leadership. What happens when there aren’t any leaders?

In the end, I’ll teach you the method I’ve implemented to try to save my people: my staff, our families, and our patients. I want you to join me and lead your world, as we can’t wait for others to lead us.

Regardless, I’m really enjoying my personal space. When all this stuff is over, I’m going to need you to stay 6 feet away from me 🙂 

This Could Have Been Avoided

So we are all clear, this COVID19 pandemic and resulting, well, everything is 100% a problem of leadership. It’s not like our “leaders” have made missteps and had unforeseen challenges. This is the result of a lack of leadership and responsibilities forsaken to serve an addiction to money, profit, and power.

The world has been watching this unfold like a car crash in slow motion. I’m sure you feel it too: time has slowed to a standstill, it seems, and three months is like a lifetime ago. Well, a lifetime ago we could have started measures to prevent this from crashing. We had all the time in the world to get the entire world out of the way of the collision.

Not only have we had warnings of this COVID pandemic for long enough, but smart people have also highlighted the need for a plan for this very real threat for some time now.

Here’s how Bill Gates, epidemiologists, and other smarty pants experts have said these things should be handled, as far back as 2003 (Gates’s stuff was as recent as 2015):

  • Contain ground zero with total lockdown
  • Ramp up testing capabilities while novel therapies are explored
  • Monitor and track potential spread
  • Aggressively test those potential carriers and those demonstrating symptoms
  • Track down those they’ve been in contact with and test them. 
  • Quarantine all of these people
  • Rinse and repeat

In simplest terms, it’s aggressive identification and containment. If we know a bug is a threat, we develop rapid tests and lock down those who are and could be infected.

This is how you prevent the economy from collapsing. Less than 10% of the population would be uncomfortable for weeks to months, not 100%.

That didn’t happen. Let’s be honest and let’s be clear: any pain or worry you have about money, jobs, the economy, etc should be blamed solely on the elected officials who could have acted but did not. 

This isn’t politically motivated. It’s not partisan to call out failures, especially this one that could have been managed MUCH differently. Stop with the mental gymnastics and stop the defense mechanisms that are standing in the way of a safer world.

Prevention is one piece of the puzzle, but it still was a puzzle that could have been solved. It wasn’t.

As COVID came here, we all dragged our feet. I remember reading about Italy and how they said they wished they had done more sooner. It was then (only about 2 weeks ago) that I started frantic phone calls to local officials telling them they need to act and not wait for a President*, Governor, or Executive to say something first.

And still, nothing at the higher levels. Slow, lax lockdowns by mayors and governors. Don’t forget the citizens. We’ve seen the macho people out partying and almost taunting COVID. As if COVID is something people were overreacting about, especially as it couldn’t possibly affect them in any way. 

I wish I could say it was a youth thing, but the number of high-risk individuals dismissing my concerns is great. They are probably not alone and concentrated in Woodstock.

The deaths of China, Korea, Italy, and others weren’t enough and they were for largely nothing. There’s only so much you can do if a contagion like this blows up in your country. But, if it happens elsewhere, we should be learning from and taking action right away.

To this day, there are leaders in states saying they WON’T lock down—the literal one thing that will stop this.

And now, these morons are growing twitchy watching stocks fall and revenues shrink. They want us to get back to it by Easter or some other arbitrary, way-too-soon date. 

I realized soon into this crisis that people are looking not for information, but for direction. We need leaders.

Here’s something we must stress in this current pandemic: we can’t trust most of our officials. We cannot assume because they are in positions of authority that they are there to lead us. They are not leaders.

Now that I’ve stated a conclusion that some of you may have already arrived at, let’s address one more concern before we get to me blasting the supplement industry.

Why did we drag our feet? Why are so many of us not taking this seriously enough? Oh, I’ve got the answer…

It’s Not Real Enough, So We Don’t Act

Let’s turn the blame towards ourselves for a moment…

When do I get the most demand for flu shots each year? Is it in early September or mid-October, the ideal times to get shots? Of course not!

It’s later in the season when things start to go south. When it’s officially announced on the news that the flu season is getting bad or even killing people. Or maybe it’s when people start to see folks close to them getting sick.

Then, everyone springs to action and gets their shot and Vitamin C and other silly remedies. This is at minimum 2 weeks too late, but honestly, it’s often months too late by this point.

COVID19 still isn’t real enough to most people. That place of ignorance is extremely dangerous to the rest of us.

I’m watching the slow-wave on social media. The people who thought I (who was technically late to the game too) was overacting are slowly now advocating for vigilance. You can see the more somber realization that this is about to get VERY bad for America. 

Still, I see too many hold outs. I predict that in the next 10-13 days as NYC starts the grind through the worst of this and the bodies start piling up, even the most macho will come around.

Then, though, it’s way too late.

Someone smart said that the virus is more patient than humans, and that’s what makes it so deadly. It’s about 21 days between infection and death. You can spread it for pretty much the entire time. 

Once it finally becomes real for people, it’s about 3 weeks too late. Any changes in behavior will only impact weeks from now. 

It’s like we’re in first grade and we’re all stuck inside because 3 kids keep peeing on the fence and torturing small animals. 

If your goal is to get back to normal, you need to get out of your comfort zone and stay the hell home. Now.

“But if everyone stays home, what about the economy?!”

Yeah. Well, again, WE COULD HAVE PREVENTED THIS. Now, everything will be stopped or “on pause” as Cuomo says. Then, things will probably be broken and will require a lot of cleanup.

Remember my last blog: acceptance. This is what it is. But, take solace in the fact that it’s not just you. It’s literally all of us. Life WILL go on, we’ll get back out there and spend our money in our BS consumerist society.

I’m of the ilk that the economy is the least of our concerns. 

Our brain does this silly thing where life is reduced to two paths: one that we’re on or have gone down, and the equal and opposite alternative path we didn’t take. Our brain creates stories and applies labels, usually in pairs: success/fail, good/bad, Empire Strikes Back/Rise of Skywalker.

A prolonged shutdown will be painful. The “alternative path” created by our brain, we reason, should be less painful, right?

Nope. Opening life up will not mean we’ll get back to normal quicker with less pain. No one knows what would happen, but most smart people believe that the damage of taking no action or reopening too soon is FAR greater than just locking it all down now. 

I believe that, in this alternative non-strategy, millions would die, the healthcare system would be completely destroyed for an extended period, and the devastation on our precious widdle economy would be factors worse than what we’re experiencing.

Let’s pretend for a minute that we live in a hyper-capitalistic world where people—who focus on making money over everything—live and vote. Not too difficult, right? Here are a couple of rhetorical questions I ask:

  • Why would the governments of the world take similar action, even in the most authoritarian, oligarchical countries? (No, not the US, I mean Russia and the ilk)
  • Why would there be one of the first bipartisan pieces of legislation in almost 20 years be to support the people and businesses suffering?

If this wasn’t the best option, we’d be on a different path, or at least have much less uniformity in the experts’ message.

For now, our only option—due to a failure of leadership—is to stay home. If we leave early, a new wave that’s much more devastating will come.

Supplement Leadership is Lacking

In Supplement School, I teach my students that the reason the charlatans thrive in the natural products industry is because conventional doctors and practitioners (like us) have turned their backs on the industry.

It’s understandable: product quality is poor and evidence is lacking. 

On the other side, the current model requires docs to push people in and out, so less time is spent with people and they feel less heard than they want to be. Big Pharma et al have shown some strong corruption over the years.

You’ve heard me present the situation enough. I, of course, have highlighted many of the hypocritical positions held by the natural products industry.

Regardless, when leadership lacks, the charlatans thrive.

Guess what’s happening in COVID land? There’s a leadership vacuum AND people are looking to do something to feel better about the “impending doom” and their own grief.

Every single charlatan is offering their solution. From products lacking scientific validity, to overpriced non-approved tests (see below), and to protocols based on a “practitioners” “research” of COVID19, there’s been an exhausting amount of misinformation out there.

I’ve said it in our three other coronavirus blogs: THERE IS NO SOLID TREATMENT OPTIONS RIGHT NOW and NO SUPPLEMENT WILL HELP.

  • Zinc lozenges won’t help
  • Oregano oil won’t help
  • Homemade hand sanitizer won’t help
  • Echinacea won’t help
  • Thermometers won’t help
  • Pulse oximeters won’t help
  • Elderberries won’t help
  • And, again: Vitamin C won’t help, despite a local NYC doc using it and getting press because “it works in China” – he hasn’t offered clinical research or sharing of his data, and therefore should not be trusted until he puts his money where his mouth is

Plaquenil, the “miracle drug” just recently touted by the wrong people which lead to hoarding all based on very weak data, probably won’t help that much. New data shows there probably isn’t much benefit, but we’ll know more as this unfolds.

An evangelical preacher, Dr. Oz, Chris Kresser, some acupuncture dude, and everyone on Instagram is offering their solutions.

Most are very direct, using what I deem as the wrong language. They use the words “combat coronavirus” or “help with coronavirus” or “protect you from coronavirus.” 

As I write this, I get an email with the subject, “Nature’s plants and herbs that kill viruses” from one of our vendors!


Thanks to Richard Waithe of RxRadio for the idea

There’s no getting around it: these people are clearly offering a product or solution for coronavirus. They do so with seemingly no moral compass and at the most inappropriate time.

Most of these people are not real doctors. Most are not using any bit of science. Most importantly, no one is respecting the nature of this crisis, the dead, nor the people who are sacrificing themselves to care for the sick.

If f*cking zinc worked they’d be using it to prevent the 700 people a day that are dying in Italy! 

If you’re a practitioner and you’re recommending it without the data to back it up, you should be ashamed!

This charlatan issue is a major problem always, but at a time like this it is sickening.

Ready for the main thesis of my ranty-poo? Here it is!! 

I can’t get to any other place than the conclusion that these charlatans make these claims for one of three reasons:

  1. They believe their own rhetoric so much so that they feel qualified to weigh in
  2. They are completely unaware of the severity of the situation (which is a huge problem and should strike against their credibility)
  3. They see this as a financial opportunity and leverage their attention and trust to make money while everyone is suffering

To my fellow supplement salespeople out there: are you any of those? Time for some introspection.

The Supplement Conflict

To be transparent and keep it real, I’ll admit that supplements themselves live in the land of scientifically ambiguous. 

This is why many conventional practitioners refuse to lead. We have to suspend our standards a bit to engage with natural products. The data isn’t the greatest, so we can’t really draw major conclusions or make strong recommendations most of the time. 

I focus on the best evidence we have, and most of my recommendations involve the Holistic Standard: The Wellness Pyramidstrategic supplement use, and the Vital Five

Some bend a bit more. I’m ok with it.

That’s OK for the long term, generally uneventful stuff. For emergencies where lives are on the line and there’s so much uncertainty, only the people with integrity will sit it out and defer to the experts.

So, take note. Who’s obviously profiting on this and who is trying to be that leader we need, even if it means selling less stuff?

How You Can Lead in Your World

OK, enough ranting and whining while educating. Here’s my new philosophy and mantra that will get me through this:

Not me. Not us. Not you.

Not me.

I’m taking this seriously. I’m going to do everything I need to do to ensure I don’t contract this illness. If that means being short with people to ensure our facetime is minimized, so be it. I’ll be masking up, wearing gloves, and alcoholing off everything when in public. Until this blows over.

Not us. 

I’m going to make sure the people in my world are cared for and doing what they need to not contract the illness. Are they financially sound? Do they need help with groceries or errands? Are they isolating? Is everyone in their household safe?

I’ve locked down my pharmacy to air-tight levels. I’ve benched a couple of pharmacists, including one who’s boyfriend probably just has a cold. Our clerks are in a position to be exposed to people who can’t verify their ‘sterile’ status, and therefore I told them to take a time out.

If I can get through this with my family, my employees, and their families without getting exposed, we’ve won.

And that’s all-important, because the last piece is…

Not you.

We’re not going to get you sick. We’re going to do our best to ensure you know what we’re up against and how important it is for you to take this seriously.

Forward We Move, Together

I suggest you implement “Not me, not us, not you,” because we have a rough few weeks ahead of us filled with pain and uncertainty. 

We do this because we have to. The economy will recover. Science shows dead people won’t recover. Lives are more important than money.

The choices that have been made by others have forced us into this situation. In the end, we’ll have politicians feigning ignorance in the glaring light of a coverup. We must hold them and these charlatans accountable for their “leadership.”

Instead, let’s lead our own little worlds in the reality we are faced with. Not me. Not us. Not you.

Just trying to keep it real…

Neal Smoller, PharmD
Owner, Pharmacist, Big Mouth

Dr. Neal Smoller, Holistic Pharmacist

About Neal Smoller

Dr. Neal Smoller, PharmD, is a licensed pharmacist: and owner of Village Apothecary, an independent pharmacy in the most famous small town in America—Woodstock, NY. He’s also the host of the popular wellness podcast, The Big Mouth Pharmacist.”


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