I keep wondering why did the new coronavirus take anyone by surprise. Or, if anything, why aren’t people surprised that it took so long for this to happen and that it’s so mild. Yes, it’s not a common cold, which is what its “cousins” that we’re used to cause, or even “just a flu”, but it’s also much less deadly than its “siblings” SARS and MERS, not to mention the avian influenza, which is the big one that’s been, and likely still is, expected, with nearly all those infected by the worst strand requiring hospitalization and most dying. In addition, pretty accurate predictions can be made regarding who’ll likely require hospitalization and risk death or at least not make a complete recovery, which makes it more predictable than even the previous pandemic.
Admittedly, I otherwise have a rather hard time justifying using the term for what happened then, since that virus proved less dangerous than even the regular seasonal flu, so while SARS and MERS, and in a way perhaps even Ebola, were bullets that we somehow dodged and the avian influenza a shot that’s probably yet to be fired, that was more like a blank that hit us. It still should have been more than enough of a warning, however, if the actual warnings given by scientists over the years wouldn’t have been enough on their own. Viruses may not even be our biggest concern, but even so, it was only through an incredible run of good luck that we’ve made it this far without something much worse happening, especially considering that the removal of any element of natural selection in the modern world makes each generation less naturally resistant and more reliant on modern medicine than the one before and that the risks are increased even further because of our own behavior. In other words, it may not be the common cold we’re used to, but we should expect, and should have already expected, it to end up being seen as just a cold compared to what’s likely to come, and we’re to blame for it.
Despite all that, the initial reaction was slow and dismissive, even disbelieving, and then, while some remain dismissive and disbelieving, the masses have largely switched straight to panic, while the measures enacted by authorities are starting to become excessive in some ways while remaining completely inadequate in many others. Perhaps worse, the response remains fragmented, states, regions and institutions still acting separately, or at least in a far less coordinated manner than they should. There’s also the fact that nearly everyone seems to forget about just about everything else, not only completely missing this extraordinary opportunity to overhaul this society and its systems, changing them for the better, but halting or even rapidly reversing even the faint traces of progress made in the right direction when it comes to other, bigger issues. But I mentioned other issues in a previous post and mean to focus on the topic in a future one, so I’ll leave it at that for the moment, as this post should just be about the response to the current crisis.
A virus as contagious as this one should definitely be expected to keep infecting people until the large majority of the population will develop a resistance, be it as a result of being infected and having recovered or vaccination. A major problem with this type of viruses is that developing long-term immunity may well be unlikely, so even otherwise healthy people with unimpaired immune systems may get sick again and again, just like they can get colds, caused by viruses from the same family, even several times per year. That means it’s likely here to stay and we should prepare ourselves to get used to having it around, just like we’re used to the seasonal flu, and not delude ourselves into thinking that we’ll eradicate it now that it made the jump to humans. If we’ll somehow manage that at some point, great, but at the moment it’d be wise to focus far less on a potential vaccine or any other hopes of eradication and far more on a cure and, at least for the short term, widespread testing.
Yes, at the moment our health systems can’t cope and the only sensible course of action is limiting the number of infections as much as possible. However, that also increases the probable duration of this pandemic, which as I already pointed out may later be remembered as only the initial outbreak, when it’d normally be expected to last about two years even without this happening. Considering the draconian measures required, at least if we actually mean to be effective, it should be obvious that we shouldn’t even think of continuing in this manner for that entire period even if we would somehow stick to the, probably misguided, belief that there will be an end, that this virus isn’t here to stay. Instead, we should look at this as something to do only until we’ll have a cure, and direct resources and efforts primarily towards finding that cure, one that will be properly tested and approved and proven to be effective and without significant negative side-effects, especially on a longer term. Once that happens, the efforts will need to be directed towards producing and distributing that cure, making it readily available for all who need it, allowing all but the particularly severe cases to be treated at home and greatly hastening the recovery of most of those severe cases, reducing the burden on hospitals.
This virus is fortunately predictable when it comes to those likely to require intensive care and possibly die, and the measures intended to limit its impact until we’ll have a cure should make use of that. In addition, the fact that those most at risk are the elderly and those with certain serious or chronic preexisting conditions means that a good part may already be somewhat less active, or at least somewhat less required to remain active on a regular basis, and more used to limitations and to needing to be careful and watchful. Perhaps more importantly, it means that some support systems are more likely to already exist for them, and that at least some may already have some experience in making use of such systems, and be willing to do so. Yes, those systems are usually completely inadequate even now and would have no chance to cope with a dramatically increased demand, but some foundations are there and they can and must be built upon… Which needed to be done anyway…
For those reasons, my stance is that, until a proper cure will be readily available, all those with preexisting conditions that put them at high risk, all those over 50 who are retired, regardless of the type of retirement or their health, and all those over 70, without exception, must be isolated for their own protection. They should be able to choose where they’ll be isolated, in case they’ll prefer to spend this period at a location that they can live at but which isn’t their legal domicile, and authorities should also identify locations that can host those who’d prefer to live with others in a similar situation, any new arrivals in such a location obviously being quarantined until tested and thoroughly proven to not be infected. Leaving isolation should automatically make them lose the right to medical attention if they’ll get infected at a time when the system would be stressed.
Of course, proper systems must be put in place in order to ensure that those who are isolated, whether for their own protection or because they’re infected without actually requiring hospitalization, won’t need to go out, and the conditions must not be detrimental to either their physical or mental health, which also means that they must have ways to stay in touch with their friends, loved ones and perhaps other like-minded individuals, follow current events, pursue at least some of their hobbies and interests, have access to at least some of their preferred forms of entertainment, and also maintain a fair level of physical activity. Many of those support systems are likely to rely on volunteers, which must therefore be trained and protected, perhaps more for the safety of those they’ll care for than for their own.
For the rest, on the other hand, the short-term priority should be widespread testing. Until we’ll have a cure and be able to relax these measures, we need to find ways to test pretty much everyone, repeatedly, and those who are neither infected nor at risk should be able to live with far less restrictions. Yes, at this point, it is wise to ban gathering in groups of people who don’t live together and aren’t romantically and/or sexually involved, and obviously any events and locations where people would gather, to require various measures to be taken to reduce the risk of infection in places that any significant number of people visit or pass through, which should be happening more often anyway, and to at least strongly recommend drastically reducing any nonessential trips outside. However, many of those who are neither infected nor at risk should be able to maintain a higher level of activity, in part even because they’ll be needed to maintain those systems required to support those who are at risk or infected, while on the other hand those who are infected but exhibit no or only mild symptoms should also be able to remain active, under strict quarantine, if this will aid those whose condition is more severe. But, in order to determine which is which, we must find ways to test, test, test, and do so relentlessly!
It’s utterly insane to see that in many places only those with obvious symptoms are tested, when we know that most show no symptoms at all and most of the rest exhibit only cold-like symptoms, or perhaps just a loss of smell or taste. On top of skewing the numbers, adding to the panic by making the virus appear more threatening and deadly than it actually is, all those infected but untested people will spread it far and wide without being aware of it unless draconian restrictions are enacted and followed to the letter, while on the other hand fully applying such restrictions to all for any significant length of time when only a small part are likely to be infected at any one point will have severe detrimental effects on the physical and mental health of people, prevent the proper functioning of the very systems required to support those who actually need to remain in isolation, and may well cause society as a whole to crumble. And here I’m referring to the good parts of it, not to those that need to be dismantled and rebuilt in a completely different manner. This approach may work for a few weeks, but when a readily available cure is at least a few months away, the situation is unsustainable.
I didn’t mention the necessity of properly protecting health workers and first responders and providing them with everything they need to do their jobs safely and efficiently so far because that should go without saying. Sadly, that doesn’t seem to be the case, but common sense never was that common, and most people are hardly rational, not to mention wise. However, when the need arises, there are also some who can and do rise to the occasion, and this is definitely such a moment. Again, this applies to so many things right now, this crisis is such an immense opportunity to overhaul our society and its systems and finally steer things in the right direction, but I said I’ll just focus on the matter at hand in this post, so let’s start with that.
Those who can’t or won’t do what’s right, and what’s necessary, need to be kept out of the way, by force if needed. Those who endanger others intentionally or through gross negligence must be punished in an exemplary manner. Those who recklessly endanger themselves should only receive assistance if the systems aren’t already stressed. And those willing and able to help must be allowed and encouraged to do so, receiving all possible support, without the restrictions hindering them or threatening to destroy what’s still good and worthwhile. As always, in any crisis, look for the helpers. Join them if you can, support them if you can’t join but can at least do that, otherwise just stay out of their way!