Thoughts on the Covid-19 Crisis

We are living through a crazy historical time. The whole country literally has shut down almost two full months, schools, offices, gyms, colleges, restaurants, street corners, all closed, all in response to a pandemic disease that so far has in the USA alone had killed over 55,000 and infected nearly a million. No riots, no resistance, not even much grumbling.

It’s changed the culture, economy, politics, even human physical contact. No touching, no talking to strangers, face masks, gloves, what they call “social distancing.” Again just in the USA, 25 million people have lost their jobs, financial markets took a nose dive (but are much recovered), the government has committed trillions in bailout money (about $4 trillion via the Federal Reserve and trillions more from Congress; more on the way). Daily briefings by Trump and Andrew Cuomo have become must-see TV, unexpected people like Fauci and Birx, health care workers, Amazon delivery guys, retail workers, food bank volunteers, are heroes. And the villains? A long list.

It feels likes its changing the world, but impossible yet to see or predict how. People haven’t absorbed it yet, and we still don’t know the outcome. How many will die? How many people we know? How badly will lives be disrupted? By what – the disease, the lost jobs and failed businesses, hunger side-effects?  Who will get blamed?  Will people get used to staying home, working less, change basic living habits?

Nobody knows.  Not yet.  It still feels unreal, partly because we’re all still so isolated in our homes.  I hear occasional names of people I know getting infected, even dying, but nobody’s advertising that fact.  Me and most people we know are radically sheltered, in nice houses with plenty of food and TV galore.  I think most of the country probably feels like us, especially across the Midwest.  It’s all very abstract; infections or deaths touch one in thousands.

We go though motions because we’re told to and we’re trying to be good citizens and understand the logic – again in an abstract way. People in the severe hot spots, of course, see if differently.

For younger people, in college and high school, how totally strange this must seem – the fear, the conformity, the crisis coming out of the blue, nobody seeming to expect it, nobody being prepared.  All the focus on other things – presidential elections, sports, weddings, family events, all our work preoccupations and crises – all abruptly cancelled.

“Man makes plans and God laughs,” goes the expression. What a good laugh He/She must be having this year.

And topping it off is the strangeness in the White House.  This disease began in China but, of all countries on earth, it’s the USA that’s seen by far the most deaths and infections.  How could this happen?  Aren’t we the most prosperous, technologically advanced country?

Its unavoidable, at least to me, that when this crisis is over, people, especially young people, will be far more cynical and feel far more aggrieved – by the trashed economy as much as by the disease. The country will gag for years on its $24(?) trillion debt.  Finger-pointing will dominate discourse, fanned by partisanship.

Its hard to see any good resulting, but that’s always the case in the heat of events. Too many moving parts. New leaders will emerge. New directions. But that takes time.

The biggest near-term tests will be (a) the presidential election, whether Biden beats Trump and whether it matters, (b) the second wave of the covid-19 disease next fall, and whether the US is ready, and (c) how the economy bounces back by year-end.  With all the Federal money poured in, wealthy people have been well cared of.  Stock portfolios will do fine.  But all those lost jobs and crippled industries could take years to bounce back. The memories of the endless food lines. Many will be left behind.

The bigger impact will come later, next year and the year after, when people can look at this disaster from a safe distance and make judgments. That’s when the real unknowns begin. Stay tuned.

3 thoughts on “Thoughts on the Covid-19 Crisis

  1. Ken,
    Some additional thoughts from my perspective as a medical educator and mental health clinician.
    I have to wonder about:
    — The mental health pandemic surely to result from the Covid pandemic and all you mentioned. After the physical health consequences of the virus, the mental health and well-being of all (rich , poor, whatever demographic) will inevitably be impacted.
    — The impact on sense of community, both local and global. We are social beings, we humans; we live in language, whether expressed overtly or in conversation with ourselves. How we language things, events, the stories we tell, all influence how we feel. Basic maxim in therapy…. change the way you think about something = change the way you feel about it. Thanks to technology and the immediacy of unfiltered information overload, we are saturated with vitriol, us vs them, all devoid of empathy and compassion. How will we reconnect?
    — The state of healthcare delivery, especially here in the US. Will the pipeline of healthcare providers dry up? How will the current providers art of practice be impacted? How will we create change in a positive way and assure that that healthcare for all is indeed not a privilege but a necessity. We are all relationally connected. How will we behave in a relationally responsible and ethically humane manner?

    Ok … jumping down off my existential soap box now.

    1. Hi Wendy- Thanks for the really thoughtful comment. Existential soap boxes are no problem!! Have you considered writing something on this? Hope so. –KA

  2. Ken, all times are historic from an historians perspective. These hearken back to the 1918 pandemic and Great Derpression of the 1930’s combined. We have lived through the Cuban missile crisis, the Korean and Vietnam wars, presidental assassinations, and the 9/11 attack. However, as disturbing and frightening as those were at the time, this is different.

    Nothing has changed the fabric of our nation as this pandemic. It has killed more Americans in a couple of months than those who died in the Vietnam war that lasted over a decade and that number continues to grow daily with no end in sight. I submit that the lack of federal preparedness and the refusal of the federal government to take decisive action (other than throwing money at the problem) have made this public health crisis more perilous.

    I agree with your assessment that our people and our nation will not be the same for a myriad of reasons. I truly believe that it didn’t have to be this bad had there been strong and decisive leadership at the federal level. The fact that some have tried to characterize this as a red state/blue state issue saddens me. We have been so broken and divided as a nation with shortsighted politicians who seem to care more about their re-election than the welfare of our people, that this has become a political issue as well. We have a president who does not refer to the medically accepted names for this disease but calls it the Chinese virus to energize his base to the point that hate crimes against Asian Americans have risen dramatically. That is shameful.

    We shall see how this all plays out, but for the first time, I am truly fearful for our nation and our people. Perhaps with over 22,000,000 unemployed, most of whom will also lose their health insurance, we will finally have the political will to fix our broken healthcare system. I am trying to be hopeful that some good will come from this. If we lose hope we lose everything!

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