Tourism is Wyoming’s second-largest industry, which is why an efficient rollout of our state’s COVID-19 vaccination program is critical not just from the standpoint of our health, but also for our economy.
To meet that challenge, our state health experts might consider borrowing a lesson from Clarence “Kelly” Johnson of Lockheed Corporation, who developed the “KISS” concept: Keep it Simple, Stupid.
Johnson was the engineer who led Lockheed’s advanced development programs in the 1950s and ‘60s, responsible for achievements such as the company’s U-2 spy plane.
While he was a remarkable engineer, Johnson is best known for inventing the acronym KISS and illuminating the importance of simplicity in design when facing complex projects. Today the KISS principle is used in processes as varied as animation at Disney, a core leadership principle at Amazon and management of U.S. Navy operations.
Roughly 400,000 residents will eventually need to be vaccinated across Wyoming, a sparsely populated state where a large geographical area and harsh weather pose travel challenges.
Tourism too is centered around low-density, hard-to-access areas where people hunt, camp, fish or just come to stare at a moose.
The speed at which we vaccinate our state matters because in 2019, 9.2 million tourists spent nearly $4 billion with Wyoming businesses on hamburgers, nights in hotels, gasoline and sunscreen. These out-of-state families will soon be deciding between Arizona’s Grand Canyon and Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park. In making their decision, one of the questions they’ll ask is: “How safe is Wyoming?”
The Centers for Disease Control currently provides guidelines to each state for distributing the vaccination. Phase 1a prioritizes those most exposed to the virus (such as health care workers) and seniors living in long-term-care facilities — populations relatively straightforward to identify and reach. Wyoming’s plan follows those guidelines.
But after that, the CDC’s — and Wyoming’s — guidelines get complicated and opaque, violating the KISS principle. Phase 1b in the CDC guidelines, for example, prioritizes “essential workers” which include “manufacturing workers” and those in the “educational sector.” Under these guidelines, health care workers will need to decide if “manufacturing” includes someone who forges oil and gas drill pipe, or whether a part-time worker who sells hot dogs at a University of Wyoming basketball game is covered under the CDC’s intent as working in the “educational sector.”
The next phase includes those with conditions that increase the risk of life-threatening complications from contracting COVID-19. A few years back I was diagnosed with lung cancer and had a portion of my right lung removed. The cancer and procedure were rare enough that no one knows if I am now at greater risk if I were infected with COVID-19. Left with the current CDC and state recommendations, Wyoming doctors will need to make thousands of individual clinical determinations on the severity of underlying health conditions like mine rather than vaccinating as many people as possible.
While these questions might seem like details to be sorted out later, they present exactly the type of complications that Johnson understood cause systems to break down, take longer and cost more money — situations that benefit from KISS.
Fortunately, the CDC allows states flexibility to meet their individual state requirements. Which means Wyoming’s Department of Health can modify their procedures for addressing this complex logistical challenge.
If COVID vaccinations were a stealth bomber, Kelly Johnson might suggest we vaccinate based on a simple criterion, such as what is on our driver’s license. For example, vaccinate those over the age of 65, then those of college age who are more likely to spread COVID.
Johnson would presumably point out that if the criteria are simple, every doctor and drug-store pharmacist can focus on vaccinating as many Wyoming residents as quickly as possible. As a guy with a potentially dangerous underlying health condition, I prefer to take my chances with a fast and efficient system than one stuck in cumbersome bureaucracy.
As Lockheed discovered, you can’t get a plane in the air or vaccinate 400,000 Wyomingites in the fastest way possible if the quest for perfection leads to an overly complex system.
KISS is not only good for our health, but also for our economy. Time is of the essence. Soon families outside of our state will be deciding whether to float Wyoming’s Green River or Idaho’s Salmon River. It would be nice if the Wyoming Office of Tourism could tell them, “Wyoming is the safest state in the country.”