As the world reels from the spread of a COVID-19, are we fixated on a false choice — either pandemic or another Great Depression? Can we avert BOTH human and economic disaster? After all, we equipped mankind to go to the moon in the sixties; why not back to work now?
Isn’t human history testimony to the idea that out of adversity comes blessing, accounting for the fact that we’re the luckiest people to have ever walked this earth?
I’ve been noodling on this, while struggling with some potential virus symptoms, including a wicked headache, fever, sore throat, and loss of taste and smell – apparently the tell-tale COVID symptom. Alas, in Western Colorado, I can’t get a test without being admitted to our hospital. Moreover, the personal protective equipment (like masks) which will ultimately be needed to re-enter society are still in short supply.
But I will never, ever, bet against human ingenuity, and American business and innovation. At some point – I believe weeks, not months — we’ll have widespread testing, not just for the virus, but for Covid-19 antibodies. That way we can segregate the vulnerable from those with immunities whose antibodies can be part of the cure.
Businesses are already responding impressively, increasing capacity to meet the demand for anti-viral therapies, ventilators, masks, gloves (and toilet paper!) and other protective gear. Ford, 3M, GE and GM are helping to produce ventilators, and industrial manufacturers like Apple are donating millions of N95 masks, as smaller fabricators are retrofitting operations to produce even more. Soon we’ll have an oversupply of these vital products, enabling a gradual return to safe economic activity.
Meanwhile, as testing ramps up amid peaking cases, we’re learning that the mortality rate is not as high as feared, and that the vast majority of Coronavirus patients – perhaps including me — can weather the disease’s symptoms with relative ease, without hospital care. We’ll also have learned better personal hygiene, and how to handle other diseases, like the flu which tragically takes 30,000-90,000 lives per year in the US alone. The world will be different when we finally emerge.
Hopefully we’ll learn whom to trust – and not to trust, such as the World Health Organization, which proclaimed in January that “trade and travel restrictions are not necessary,” and “the actions of China are making us safer,” thereby confusing and delaying the response of governments around the world. Better to learn from democratic countries on the front lines of prior outbreaks, such as Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea, which geared up to test and hospitalize people on a mass scale, using data to protect the healthy.
Our most important lesson may well be spiritual. Hopefully we’ll have deepened our resilience, perseverance, wisdom and compassion for fellow mankind – whether afflicted medically or economically — creating a new model for society. As other difficult moments throughout human history reveal, you have to have faith that eventually, this too shall pass.
Because we are both braver and stronger than we know, it’s easier to face challenges while living our lives – even now in quarantine and later as we tip toe back into society — rather than being preoccupied only with preserving it.
Being reawakened to life’s fragility can be a blessing, inspiring us to live our minutes with greater intensity and goodness, to continuously love, dream, and create. As the rabbinic sage Maimonides taught, we should think of our deeds as perfectly balanced so that our next act will tip the scales toward the good.
Every day in seemingly insignificant ways, we can promote grace, beauty and goodness, helping improve the world — even while in quarantine. The Bible is right: “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”
We can face the future without fear knowing we are doing so with the support and collaboration of others. And in my case, with the help of my incredible husband!
God bless, be safe, and l’chaim (to life)!