COVID 19, the Coronavirus, is triggering global panic.
As I write this, the World Health Organization (WHO) just declared it a pandemic, citing “alarming levels of spread and… levels of inaction.” Right now, there are over 120,000 documented cases worldwide and over 1,000 here in the United States. I’m positive that by the time you’re reading this, those numbers will seem nostalgic. Things move blindingly fast. As illustration, three weeks ago, we hadn’t even heard of “self-quarantine.” Miriam Webster now catalogues it in the top one percent of lookups.
One might say that the media is over-hyping the crisis to get eyeballs and clicks. One might be right. Yet, there’s also a legitimate cause for concern. Between the unreliable information stream; the natural fear we all have of the unknown; as well as feeling that we are leaves in the rapids, propelled without control; it’s normal to have to hold at bay the nauseous sense of panic welling up in our throats.
As the serenity prayer says, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” This condition is so not in the “change the things I can change” column. The best advice is “remember to breathe.” Clear a moment. Close your eyes. Take a long, deep breath. Let it out. Repeat. Color it “acceptance”
However, what will our society look like post-virus?
And yes, it will be gone. There will be a morning after. Most of us will be here when the sun rises on that day. If we use China as a template, the scourge – if handled well (and that’s a topic for another column) – will take about eight weeks to run its course.
I’m sure there are greater predictive minds than mine looking to that time, although I think some consequences are already making themselves known.
Per Wikipedia, “Social distancing is… (a method to) control actions… to stop or slow down the spread of a highly contagious disease.” As we all know, it is being implemented by curtailing and canceling large gatherings, such as concerts, sporting events, conventions – let alone schools, churches, and businesses. Cities have banned gatherings over 250 people. Italy has virtually locked the doors and thrown away the keys. New Rochelle, NY has a one-mile containment zone. All of these actions are being executed with the intent of flattening the “expansion curve,” a lofty goal but with side effects.
We are traveling less – even within our own towns. We remain more in our homes, associating only with those we trust.
Sadly – out of a perceived necessity – we are even reconsidering hugs and handshakes, trading them for fist, foot, and elbow bumps, as well as bowing.
Culture has been defined as “that’s how we do things around here.” Our culture – for better or worse – will not “do things” like we did before this disease. It will not look nor feel the same, even after the Coronavirus is relegated to the same place in history as polio, SARS or the Black Plague. We will “do things” differently
As humans, we are hard-wired to be with others. That is why we form close relationships, build communities, construct cities. This epidemic is putting us at odds with our nature, causing sadness and internal conflict that will remain long into the future. It will show itself as us being more physically – and emotionally - isolated; nesting more, using virtual links more frequently than we do now, seeking out that connection we no longer feel safe receiving in public. Fear and suspicion of the “other,” already a major difficulty in society, is being amplified.
You might or might not agree with my calculations but, being a battle-scarred optimist, I want to believe that maybe, just maybe, this horrendous period will give bright-light brilliance to the fact that – no matter our color, gender, sexual preference, political leanings, even the country in which we live – we are One. Each of us loves and fears and does the best he or she knows how to do. Yet, in a New York minute, it can all be change, through no fault of our own.
I do know that no matter what the future carries, we stand a better chance if we can find ways to help and hold each other through this period, whether that’s via a video conference or as part of large conference.
This will end. What happens afterwards is being created now. Choose wisely your reaction.
Stay healthy. Be well.