The Biscayne Times

Jul 08th
Don’t Worry Needlessly PDF Print E-mail
Written by Fred Jonas, Special to the BT   
June 2020


Ibigstock-Birthday-Cake-Profile-2749325f you are keeping score, yes, COVID-19 is still with us. That’s a score not hard to keep. Whether the news cycle is weekly, as it is with many magazines, or daily, as it is with the newspaper, or nonstop 24/7, as it is with TV, radio, and the Internet, you have no opportunity to forget.

And thinking about news cycles, let’s remember that people who have to put out the news need news to put out. Oh, the aimless mischief that gets made in the interest of finding something to say.

One increasingly common topic these days is musing about how all our lives will or should change in the post-COVID-19 world, assuming, of course, there is one. And the first and most frequent resolution I hear is from all the people who will never again shake a stranger’s hand or, even worse, hug a stranger. These are apparently now considered not only death-defying gestures, but completely gratuitous ones.

Another one I heard is that no one should blow out candles on a birthday cake anymore, and the person who made this suggestion equated that act with spitting all over someone else’s food. And, of course, there are the people who are now resolved to eat at restaurants less often and appreciate life’s gifts more wholeheartedly.

It’s important to state here that “COVID-19” means coronavirus disease, 2019 edition. COVID-19 is not remotely the first epidemic the world has experienced, and it’s not even the first coronavirus epidemic we’ve seen. It’s just last year’s model, and it happens to be very highly contagious. It can kill large swaths of people in confined settings, like nursing homes. And it’s still with us.

What to do when an epidemic starts? Identify the geographical source and stop travel to and from that source? Absolutely. This is garden-variety epidemiology. That didn’t happen this time because the geographical source of the epidemic didn’t admit it was the source. That was a failure of execution, not a failure of the theory. But we’ve gone a lot further than that in our crusade (I don’t use this word lightly) against COVID-19.

It’s tragic to say that some of our own countrymen have hit upon the idea of demonizing all Asians because they look like they could be Chinese and the epidemic started in China. This is a very primitive, but unfortunately very well-known human response to fear and/or insecurity.

But what about the suddenly resolution never again to shake anyone’s hand or hug someone who is not very well known to the hugger? The European and Middle Eastern style of kissing other people on the cheeks is imagined to be the equal to Russian roulette. Let’s remember that shaking hands and hugging and kissing on the cheek are only fraught if there’s an active highly contagious disease. No one contracted COVID-19 in 2018. Anyone could shake hands, hug, kiss on the cheek, or blow out candles on a birthday cake, and no one was going to get sick from it.

Is hand washing a good idea? Up to a point. It depends where those hands have been and where they’re going, and if the person whose hands they are has obsessive-compulsive disorder.

COVID-19 has gotten, and rightly earned, a great deal of everyone’s attention. It has killed tens of thousands of Americans, made many more sick, and distorted or contracted the functioning of almost everyone. Memories of our lives before COVID-19 are becoming hazier, and it seems more and more people can’t imagine a future without it. Hence, the resolutions about how we will live our lives from now on.

Many don’t even specify that we’re talking about how we will live our lives when there is no COVID-19 anymore. With talk of future flare-ups, it’s as if the assumption is that COVID-19, if it recedes, will be replaced by COVID-20 and then COVID-21. And this leads people to imagine a new world of new functioning, in which people no longer shake hands or hug each other upon meeting, or blow out candles on a cake or go out to eat as they did before.

But what if COVID-19 does recede? What if an effective vaccine is developed? What if well people take fewer liberties, and greater care, around sick people? What if we had testing enough to know who is infected, and who isn’t? What if countries learn a very big lesson about the value in working together, instead of treating all other countries as enemies and nothing but competitors? Aren’t we then back to 2018, when shaking hands, or hugging strangers or kissing them on the cheek, or blowing out birthday candles was not dangerous?

There was a flu pandemic that occurred around 1918. Precautions were taken at the time, although they weren’t at the level that we take them now. That flu, and its pandemic, ended, and people returned to their normal behaviors. There was no reason not to, and no consequences for doing it. We all worried about Ebola and then HIV, and we learned how to be more careful. Neither infection has ended. But no one is refusing to shake hands because of the fear of them.

People don’t get infected by the touch of another person or by being near them. They get infected because there are active highly infectious organisms in the environment. When and if that’s no longer true, then we can all leave home freely and go to work, and attend concerts and shows, and mingle and shake hands, and hug and kiss other people. Just as we always did.

Although there is no reason to assume any crisis has passed at this point and that we should all just go back about our business yet, there’s also no reason to assume that the world has changed permanently, and that this is it from now on. That’s way too many chips to cash in. And way too soon.

It’s a funny dilemma, right? It’s too soon for optimism, and too soon for pessimism. It’s just too soon for anything. And that drives many people a bit crazy. People want a sense of knowing: knowing what to expect and when to expect it. And while we’re all waiting to know what no one knows, we’re all living lives that are not normal. There are real consequences to what we all don’t know, and to the fact that we don’t know it.

Is there any sense of normalcy and of comfort in your life? Seize upon it. Relish it. Binge-watch something. Call people. Reduce your stress.


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