If there is anything I have learnt repeatedly about humans through classes, news articles, textbooks etc, it is that we like to look for patterns, to find meaning. In an attempt to prepare for a new reality brought to us, almost unexpectedly so, we first struggle to make sense of what is happening around us.
The best message I have received so far (other than washing my hands!) has been through a combination of two very recent articles. One is an op-ed in the New York Times by a pediatric surgeon that takes us directly to the frontlines, making us confront reality while calling to arms the rest of the world. The other is a more forward looking analysis by the MIT Technology Review that makes us specifically question the effect of social distancing and how long it might be around to stay. What I learnt through these two was a result of taking these separate threads in each hand and weaving them together into a knot that feels complex yet contained in this currently scrambled and chaotic reality.
The op-ed titled in part ‘The Sky is Falling,’ discusses the situation from the eyes of a doctor and highlights the availability (or lack thereof) of resources for patients such as hospital beds, ventilators, etc as well as for doctors (protective gear). It goes on to explain how the healthcare system, at least in New York, is being pushed to capacity and is close to crumbling. However, the key takeaway from the article sits towards the end: “Please flatten the curve and stay at home, but please do not go into couch mode.” It says that this is an “all-healthy-hands-on-deck” kind of situation, but I would extend that to say that it doesn’t just apply to doctors. Creators, technologists, medical professionals, entrepreneurs and policy-makers need to come together like never before to protect not just those infected but the whole world as we find ourselves in this unprecedented situation.
While the op-ed looks at a tiny slice of this whole situation, the MIT Tech Review article by Gideon Lichfield zooms out and considers lifestyle in a time like this. The underlying assumption is simple and summed up here, “the pandemic needs to last, at a low level, until either enough people have had COVID-19 to leave most immune … or there’s a vaccine.” Even with the first vaccine being tested on humans, it could take at least a year to reach a viable solution that can be implemented in a wide-spread manner. What do we do in the meantime? Lichfield considers a model proposed by the Imperial College Covid-19 response team where “social distancing” will come and go in waves. Based on this idea, it expects adaptation to systems around socializing, such as movie theatres, restaurants etc, an extension to what is already coming together as the ‘shut-in economy’. Lichfield also speculates the state of transit and monitoring people as they move from one place to another, while somehow still trying to maintain privacy.
This is where these two ideas come together. Whether the need to flatten the curve and #socialdistancing will become recurring parts of our reality or remain a one-time phenomenon, it is clear that we require system-level change. If we cannot find a way to help fight this war at the front lines, we need to use this time we have at home to rethink parts of our lives that seemed the most affected by this pandemic and why. We need to embrace this reality and pool our resources in a way that brings us together and helps us prepare for when something like this, or even worse, hits again.