Pandemic Perspective #16 July 4, 2020
Happy Independence Day!
COVID-19: It’s time to think long-term
A couple of months into the current pandemic there was wishful thinking that it would run its course before the end of the year, that there might only be a few flare-ups in some parts of the world, that mortality rates would improve as hydroxychloroquine, remdesivir and other medications stopped the virus in its tracks and that a vaccine would put an end to it once and for all. All these speculations have been quashed or at least their timelines drastically altered.
The COVID-19 pandemic is going to be a part of everyone’s life for a long time. It will not burn itself out; it will smolder for years as it penetrates into more remote areas not yet affected.
There are two great unknowns: what percentage of the population will have to have been infected to reach herd immunity and how effective a vaccine will be. The SARS-CoV-2 virus is not just another coronavirus. Although it is much less likely to kill its victims than its predecessors, SARS and MERS, it is more transmissible and certainly more unpredictable. It is deadly for seniors and produces a pattern of symptoms in very young children that pediatricians have never seen before.
Development of a vaccine will occur with historically breathtaking speed but there’s more to it than that. Although I feel that it will be more protective than some pessimists have predicted it may require more than one dose, adding to the already obvious challenge of rapid worldwide distribution. Lurking beneath is the matter of politics. The countries in which the vaccine is being manufactured claim first dibs; developing countries have expressed fears that they will be at the end of the line.
Our personal and public habits are in a tizzy. Dr. Fauci claims that handshaking will be taboo forevermore. Try wrapping your head around that one! Will older, i.e. persons over the age of fifty, no longer hug their grandchildren? The medical establishment warns us about fomites, things like doorknobs, railings and light switches that can seed the populace with live virus particles for days. So how about cash? Financial experts have been pushing us toward a cashless society for a couple of decades. Is this their chance to get it done? After all, think of how many hands have touched the change that the store clerk hands you if you have paid in cash. It will be another boon for Apple and Samsung, whose smart phones allow us to pay for anything by letting the device hover over the item we’re purchasing. Just like in the Amazon store.
Here’s another ugly thought: no more card games, e.g. blackjack, poker and canasta, in which playing cards pass from hand to hand for a couple of hours. Will the country’s casinos require than every craps player bring his or her (properly disinfected) dice. How will those casinos reconfigure slot machines to deliver winnings without a handle or a pushbutton? Hmmm! Maybe a smartphone can do that too.
The restaurant scene has already changed and they will all now become “intimate” – quiet, uncrowded. The menu is printed anew every day and you’ll place your order with that ever-more-important smartphone.
As one wag put it, “So in retrospect, in 2015, not a single person got the answer right to ‘Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?’”