To Panic or Not to Panic


by Roxanne Tellier

To update the old saw; whether you believe we are in the middle of a global pandemic, or not – you are right.

There is plenty of ‘evidence’ to bolster either conclusion. And that, in a nutshell, is precisely at the core of our immediate dilemma; in the face of a poorly coordinated, half-hearted, largely disrespected, lack of an honest plan for moving forward, the people are the losers.

“It’s just like a cold. More people die of the flu. It’ll be all over by the spring, when the hot weather arrives. It’ll just go away.  And besides, it’s gonna mainly just go after the elderly and those with compromised immune systems.”

Man, it’s like the early days of HIV/AIDs. No one is too concerned at first, until they realize that someone they actually love is at risk. THEN it’s real.

Without strong, disciplined, bipartisan leadership, the planet is sleepwalking toward that part in the horror movie when the teenaged girls in bikinis decide that the dead of night is a great time to explore the abandoned cabin that’s perched on the cursed graveyard. No matter how much you scream ‘DON’T GO IN!” the hapless victims seem locked into their fate. 

I want people to assume that we’re overreacting because if it looks like you’re overreacting you’re probably doing the right thing.” National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases head Dr Anthony Fauci

The hard-won knowledge that is coming out of the worst infected areas is cautioning that only a complete commitment to social isolation can possibly flatline, or at least slightly flatten, an otherwise inevitably upward curve to confirmed cases, and sadly, the deaths of many.  

In actual fact, our governments have our social containment firmly in their grasps, should they decide to use their powers. Once a national emergency has been declared, there are sweeping, authoritarian-like powers that can lawfully separate people from their friends and families, or indeed, can legally order the containment and/or movement of anyone believed to have the virus, or have been exposed to it. Non-compliance of any of the constrictions could lead to fines and prosecution of scofflaws.

That would be your worst-case scenario. But whatever is to happen next, we must first have leaders in whom we have confidence. And we also have to make that giant leap in our own minds that there really is a boogieman out there, one that can not only take out our loved ones, but that can turn any one of us into an unwitting carrier that might well bring home the very disease we want to shield them from.

Even countries that have been goaded into rabid divisiveness need to get their act together. It’s time to think of the entire country as a tribe – not opposing teams – and work together to help each other out. It’s a lot harder when so many simply do not or can not believe in what they are hearing from their own governments, and instead have a sneaking suspicion that those meant to protect them, actually have more interest in either saving their own skins, or in using the opportunity to line their pockets at the peoples’ expense.

As if that mix isn’t toxic enough, add in one of the groups most vulnerable to the virus …. Baby boomers.  Now, I don’t want to say that we boomers have basically decided that we’re never gonna die – I’m just saying that we brought vinyl back when all the experts said that vinyl was as dead as the dodo. Baby Boomers that have gotten into a good job, in politics, big business, or the Market, have super glued themselves to their chairs, and have no intention of ever leaving, even if the virus DOES get them.

All things being equal, I’m not too terribly surprised at how many people are pooh poohing any kind of long-term social isolation, but hear me out – we’re more than halfway there already. With schools, libraries, live theatres, and so many other venues simply shutting their doors for the foreseeable future, why not bow to this enforced quarantine, and try to break the chain of infection?  

Not seizing the opportunity would be like throwing a fancy-dress party, but not specifying a date – in order for this to be effective, we need to be together, as a country, as a people. We need to MAKE it work, by committing to following the guidelines. How hard can it be?

If you’re trying to save the economy, that’s laudable. But these closings and shut downs are already in effect. There might not be another time when everything coincides to make it easiest to shut down for spring break, and then extend that break just long enough to get past the 14 day isolation period. Sure, I’m not happy that the live, daily shows that I enjoy will not be filmed or shown, but those people deserve to have their health considered as well – the stars and staff of those shows are not trained performing monkeys, they’re people with families and loved ones, maybe kids out of school for the duration, and they deserve that time off as much as anyone else does.

I don’t think it makes much sense to fight against that. This moment in time was fortuitous – it’s unlikely another will be in place before the summer. We have a chance to take control of a bad situation, and hopefully defeat the worst of what might be to come.

In terms of economic survival, the people I worry the most about are those who are part of the ‘gig’ economy – musicians, waiters, bartenders, Uber/Lyft drivers, and so many more who were clever enough to create jobs for themselves when no one would give them one. People who have thrown their lot in to entrepreneurialism are really going to suffer from a lack of a paycheck. They will need to be nimble and clever to ride it out. Sometimes it is in crisis that creative people come up with the next big evolutionary step in their art. Perhaps this is the gig economy’s ‘dinosaur, meet comet’ moment. I guess we’re about to find that out.

Then there’s the healthcare field; already overwhelmed by government’s continual nipping and tucking of their budgets. This crisis is shining a spotlight on what happens when we cut too close to the bone, and endanger not only our patients, but the very people that we need to save us when it hits the fan. First responders are also going to be an endangered species; the police, fire, EMTs, 911 operators, ambulance drivers, are all going to be working overtime to take care of those who need their services. What happens when those people have to deal with the virus in their own families? Or in themselves? Time to be very, very kind to everyone you know who stands between you and a very messy illness.

Bear in mind, as well, that while we’re trying to ramp up to help people with acute virus symptoms, that already strained health care system and lack of beds and equipment is ensuring a continuation of hall way medicine, and long, long hours in emergency rooms. Having a heart attack? A baby? We’re already hearing about women facing hard labour on a gurney – or even out in the parking lot. Triage could get brutal.

There’s so much more to consider. What happens to those people who keep going in to work, in any field, that have to worry about their kids being out of school for several weeks? Is serving your coffee, or ringing up your purchases, as important as being home to care for their children, or elderly parents? 

Truthfully, what’s really making us crazy is this crippling uncertainty. We don’t’ know how long this will go on. Do we need to look at long term unemployment? What about the kids? How long can we sustain any kind of isolation? Without a clear vision, just getting through the next few weeks may seem like too much of a hardship, personally, and for our country.

We want to know that this too will pass, but we’d be a lot more comfortable if there were clear indicators of what will happen tomorrow, next week, or next month. We want to know that there are brighter days ahead, if we can only hang in through this trying period. When we are told to expect worse to come, it doesn’t make what is happening now any easier.

In Italy right now, a country that is, granted, much more attuned to an authoritarian, militaristic governance, the people are dutifully quarantined in their homes. Some say that America is just one week ahead of where Italy is right now, pandemic wise.

This letter, from Monica Maggioni, a veteran journalist and the CEO of RaiCom, a division of Italian public television, was published in the Washington Post today, in an attempt to paint a bit of a picture of what is going on there.

For many Italians, the normal warnings about this virus were simply not enough to change behavior. Denial comes too easily, perhaps. It was more convenient to blame some foreign germ-spreader, or pretend that the news was unreal. Then came a reality check: Last Sunday, Pope Francis gave a benediction not from his normal window at the Vatican but via video, in part to avoid the crowd on St. Peter’s Square but also to send a message. That was the first strong sign to snap out of it.

Now I find myself confined in a place where time is suspended. All the shops are closed, except for groceries and pharmacies. All the bars and restaurants are shuttered. Every tiny sign of life has disappeared. The streets are totally empty; it is forbidden even to take a walk unless you carry a document that explains to authorities why you have left your house.”

Strange days, hard times. And yet – even in the sadness, the wonderful people of Italy are proving that the sharing of music can keep us from despair.

They will prevail. And so will we.

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