The coronavirus pandemic entered quietly into our spaces without any warnings as many other natural disasters. And it forever changed our reality and normalcy. Actually, there were some warnings, but we underestimated its potency and downplayed it by saying “it’s just another flu, thousands of people die with flu every year.” This silent and deadly enemy cannot be seen; we cannot shoot a virus by enlisting military forces to honor our heroes amongst the army, navy and air force. In fact, this formidable enemy crosses all boundaries of countries, red and blue states, all races, religions, genders, ages, education, and economic status, a true definition of An Equal Opportunity. In fact, this coronavirus hijacked our lives without our consent. We are consumed with news regarding the coronavirus attacks locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. No other news was emphasized from March of 2020 till now, almost 3 months straight by this brainless and incompetent packet of DNA and RNA strands which has changed and captured the human enterprise.
As of today, there have been more than 5.1 million infections with the virus and a death toll of more than 335,000 globally. Just within the US, confirmed deaths caused by the coronavirus surpassed 95,000. The negative impact caused by the virus is not just the death rate but the accompanying collateral economic damage with 23 million unemployed Americans as of mid-April which translates to an unemployment rate of 14.7%, and growing every week, approaching the highest level since the Great Depression in 1929, 10 years after the influenza pandemic.
In 1918 during the worst influenza pandemic, the final global death toll ranges from 17 million to 100 million, depending on the way victims are counted. Almost 700,000 people are thought to have died in the U.S., equivalent to more than 2 million people today as a proportion of the population. The predominant population who died were young males, soldiers.
In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic largely, but not entirely, spares the young, and targets the older population, testing how much contemporary U.S. society values the elderly.
This virus changed every aspect of our culture, society, politics, business, economy, and life attitudes. In fact, it permeated through so many levels, we cannot even fathom.
The culture is changed in fundamental ways, for example, by the way we greet each other; we recoil from handshaking, even elbow bumps to keep the distance of 6 feet away from each other. The greetings have now altogether become a no-go, not even smiles hidden under the mask.
Politics have changed; no campaign events with a large crowd, travels to every state by candidates, and voting may change entirely to mail. The blaming games for faulting others in delayed response to the pandemic has not changed, however. The Americans also became better at several things; cooking, being more homebodies and accustomed to be more introvert due to limitations going out to restaurants and bars.
Education has changed. Most classes are by website or zooming. Students without computers will be left out in the dark which creates lack of access and opportunities in learning for the poor. “Tele schooling” is now becoming more of a norm affecting at least 55.1 million students impacted nationwide.
Traveling, entertaining, vacationing, and hotel businesses have been halted by the virus. Instead, on-line ordering from Amazon, Walmart, Costco and groceries has been doing well, some with price gouging to follow the fundamental economic rule, “as consumer demand increases, the price increases.” Delivery truck drivers’ job security has been increased since they are now the lifeline to many.
Our hygiene requirements and habits have been changed; we wash our hands more frequently, something we should learn from obsessive-compulsive patients who have perfected this art. Americans also became hoarders of hand sanitizer, disinfectant, toiletry and tissue products. In lieu of high fashion clothing, more colorful designs of facial masks are selling better. The definition of personal hygiene has shifted. Both men and women’s hair length are increasing, including some of the governors who are showing up every day on the television monitors. The people with sign language also stepped up and are more visible than before.
What about the attitude? American people naturally tend to focus on two desires, safety and freedom. Hyper-individualism shouting, “keep me safe and leave me alone.” But we now know that these two desires are inter-related and even conversely related. One cannot be safe unless you do your part in the four pillars of our strategy—hygiene, distancing, screening, and masks. Who would have thought someone (index patient zero) from Wuhan China can affect the entire global world like today? Can one person change the world? Absolutely. Freedom? Yes, we want that too, but not when it affects other people in such a detrimental way. What we do today is intertwined with how we affect others tomorrow more than we can possibly imagine.
We lost our innocence in the trust of being together socially. Hugging, handshaking, talking and singing together, touching and holding hands to comfort others, and even breathing the air in an enclosed space has become risky. Every causal contact has become a calculated risk as if it is a sexual encounter. The question of who and where have you been with recently crosses our mind before welcoming someone into our boundaries. The comfort of being in the presence of others has been replaced by the comfort of being alone. All the things extroverts flourish in have become a thing of the past.
Nobody can predict when is the end and the full consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. History repeats itself and we can learn a great deal of knowledge by studying past experiences. Key points from observing the epidemiology of past influenza pandemics in 1918 may provide insight into the COVID-19; the length of pandemic will likely be 18 to 24 months, as herd immunity gradually develops in the human population. Given the high transmissibility of coronavirus, in order to halt the pandemic, an estimate of 60% to 70% of the population may need to be immune to reach a critical threshold. One thing we can predict with confidence is that it will take time to get back to the normalcy we once used to know. We will soon forget what the pandemic was like—our memory is short-lived and amnesia is guaranteed, but the history will repeat itself again by having another pandemic. The way the pandemic with COVID-19 will end is most likely by our exhausted energy and fading memory in dealing with it before the actual virus pandemic will be over.
The only sure things in life are death, paying taxes and perpetual mutation in viruses. Currently, the pandemic is far from over. Despite a still rising coronavirus infection rate worldwide, America will open the businesses and resume the usual domestic air travel starting 5/25, the special train to transport migrant workers on 6/1, and 200 general passenger trains across the country. Slowly and surely all the businesses, essentials and non-essentials will open, tip-toing the balance of sacrifices from the health care workers who actually take care of the residual contagious and sick population. There will be spikes of COVID-19 back into emergency rooms and intensive care units. The government will calculate how many bed capacities are available, rather than how many doctors, nurses, EMT, janitors and other allied health care workers are risking their own lives and their loved ones in their family. Most health care workers did not sign up to be enlisted as military personnel, understanding one’s own life may be endangered by the duties, but they simply want to help others who are sick. They did not sign up to risk their lives every day as if we are going to the battlefield on the frontline. As the pandemic prolongs, the glory and honor of the jobs being heroes, albeit involuntary, will be soon forgotten and diminish. The price of paying one’s own sacrifice needs to be thought through, weighing the benefits and risks, as we now see many early retirements from health care workers. The younger generation will pick up the tune of, “for the whom the bell tolls,” and we may face severe shortages of health care workers in the future.
At the peak, we are witnessing COVID-19 crisis overwhelm the hospitals, and we are in dire need of physicians and health care allies on the frontline. However, in the midst of all of this, hospitals had to furlough thousands of employees, cutting their pay, requesting volunteer staff, and yet failing to provide adequate PPE while demanding that staff risk their lives. Some nurses and doctors are speaking out on the reality of lacking adequate PPE and over-working their shifts to 15 hours, but some hospital administrators are punishing those that spoke up against the system. Some other hospitals are laying their employee off. Even worse is that these same CEO’s, administrators, and executives were being compensated with million-dollar salaries or more. It is very perplexing how health care workers could be fired, furloughed, or asked to take pay cuts as they put on PPE to care for critically ill patients at great personal risk.
Life goes on as death goes on. More recently, news media rarely covers how many deaths occur daily by regions any longer, as if 50 dead are not important as 800 dead. As media coverage dissipates, so will be our reality in COVID-19. The tail end of the mess, perpetual chaotic reality that virus left will be cleaned up by the unsung heroes just like the Vietnam veterans with amputated extremities, still with mental and physical scars.