This Isn’t Going To End Soon

3
This Isn’t Going To End Soon
Bay Street in Toronto on March 14, 2020 (Photo: Shutterstock)

I don’t want to be grimmer than necessary, but let’s get realistic about one thing. If a place said they’re closing for two weeks, or if an April event has been postponed to May, here’s my advice: Don’t count on it.

When my kids’ school said they were closing for two weeks, I interpreted that as “closed until further notice.” Sure, for planning purposes they had to set a date to reevaluate, but that’s not really my concern. Of course, they had to extend the closure—and I kept hearing parents complaining about the changing dates, as if they expected and deserved a clear message. Folks, we’re in uncharted territory.

This pandemic is new, and these closures and stay-at-home orders unprecedented. This isn’t like the flu season, where we know when it tends to start, when it tends to peak, and how long it lasts. Nobody knows what’s going to happen. We only know that it’s just getting started.

Back in February, there was a chance that closures might be short lived. “If it were possible to wave a magic wand and make all Americans freeze in place for 14 days while sitting six feet apart, epidemiologists say, the whole epidemic would sputter to a halt,” the New York Times reported last week. But society has not frozen in place, not even around the world. Some schools remained open, some global cities have not closed non-essential businesses, some people kept going to parties, and everywhere people have been keeping up necessary interactions like seeking emergency medical care.

So we don’t know what happens next, but it’s clear that our epidemic curve is still on the upswing. It doesn’t matter which tracker you look at, or whether testing is capturing most of the cases or only a tiny fraction: every graph is climbing, and there’s no way for cases to suddenly plummet to zero. We’ll be in this for a while.

How long? Nobody can say, and honestly it’s too early to put stock into any specific prediction. Maybe school will start up again in September, maybe it won’t. Maybe testing efforts will finally be able to catch up enough to find out how many people truly have the coronavirus, and this will enable efficient contact tracing to stamp out transmission South Korea style. Even in the best case scenario, though, it will be a while before we can truly return to normal.

So, here we are, in a situation where there’s no way to accurately plan for the future. All we can do is take things one day at a time. While I was writing this post, I happened across Liz Neeley’s excellent article on how to talk to your friends and family about the coronavirus, in which she highlights a famous quote from former prisoner of war James Stockdale:

Stockdale later attributed his survival to the fact that he “never lost faith in the end of the story,” unlike those “who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.”

If Stockdale is right, embracing the uncertainty of a situation may help us get through it.

Comments

  • This is going to go on for 6 months to a year at least, possibly longer. It’s not helped by the lack of available testing. Here in Tasmania, I have had symptoms for over a week and yet the hotline gave me incorrect advice (go to the ER) and the ER said “this is the last place you want to be, there’s a clinic for it”. Calling the clinic, they tell me my symptoms are not serious enough to get tested, so I have no way to know if I actually have it, the only way to get tested is to be sick enough that I probably should be at the ER anyway. That lack of testing capacity is going to be the biggest problem.

    What pisses me off about this is that, when this thing was still only in China, it was obvious it was going to spread, many commentators were saying this in January, yet our govt here made no effort to organise testing and other containment supplies, and is still allowing Chinese owned companies to buy up these supplies (masks, gowns etc) and ship them to China, it’s happening as I write this. All of those supplies should have been commandeered immediately and distributed nationally.

    Australia, and many other countries, have been massively let down by our governments, who failed to close down air traffic (this should have happened as soon as the virus started spreading) or plan for the coming pandemic when it was obvious this was going to happen months ago.

    • Whatever our government comments about “how long” would be an un-educated guess. Even if they say 2 years it should be taken as a wild “maybe” At time like this I am sickened by rookies making decisions.

      Our government leaders are uneducated in their fields. They are simply appointed and use advise from dubious experts. The minister for health has zero health training. He does have a degree in law. https://www.health.gov.au/ministers/the-hon-greg-hunt-mp/minister-hunts-biography .

      The result is confusion. The public too knows little. Who knew the main entry point for the virus are the eyes – tell that to mask wearers. How long does COVID-19 remain dangerous on surfaces? We do not know, no studies have been done, only on SARS.

      What about hand sanitisers… has anyone heard only product marked hospital grade can kill the virus. None of Dettol’s products are hospital grade.

      We are ignorant. Not the stupid kind but the un-informed kind. So take some of the billions and inform the public.

      Lest We Forget !

  • I agree. Much more could have been done earlier. Quarantine the cruise ships as soon as they landed. All visitors to Australia on immediate quarantine upon arrival. And stop the pubs and clubs one month in advance. This would have helped. Now, we are putting these measures when the virus is already deep in the country.

Log in to comment on this story!