This week many world and local leaders hit the nuclear response button to a pervasive, flu-like virus that kills a lot of old people and around 10 times the number as the common flu, according to the latest figures.
Dubbed “the coronavirus” (covid-19 to be scientific), roughly 92% of all infected age groups survive and fully recover. For those under 60, the survival rate jumps to over 99%. For those in their 70s and 80s, or those with respiratory or smoking conditions, the survival rate drops to 96% and 92% respectively. For comparison, the flu kills .1% of those infected on average.
Understandably, those “much higher than normal odds” are a scary concern for senior citizens like my parents who venture out in public. But depending on how optimistic you are, a 92-99.5% survival rate doesn’t warrant shutting down society for, as one megacity in China has done and the entire countries of Italy, France, Spain (and surely more) have already done.
In my opinion, those reactions are the nuclear option. A “flattening the curve” of infections at all costs option. In America, we’ve so far taken a hybrid approach, which is still an overreaction, in my risk-taking opinion. Although citizens are free to move about and go to a decreasing number of open stores (because there isn’t enough foot traffic to keep them all open), every public event, many businesses, most churches, and an increasing number of schools are closed to meetings.
To make matters worse, public officials haven’t explained an endgame or exit strategy for the first wave of 15-30 day closures. Because they don’t have one. This only causes more panic and uncertainty. For example, my state of 3 million has a total of 5 confirmed coronavirus carriers and zero deaths. Because not everyone gets tested, that number is likely several times higher, but the survival rate of 97-99% of most people still stands. Nevertheless, they’ve shut down all of our schools and churches and office jobs are now work from home. All told, maybe more than half of the state has closed for two weeks or “until further notice.”
After our current wave of two weeks to two month cancellations, those numbers will certainly be higher. Then what? Will officials only lift restrictions as the number of new cases slow? (They haven’t said.) What will they do when the virus comes raging back after lockdowns are lifted or when next winter comes? (They haven’t said.) Will they shut the world down again? (They won’t say because they don’t know.)
In terms of world leaders, the United Kingdom is currently the only country willing to ride out this storm, build immunity, and suffer the the long-term consequences. They’ve cancelled major sporting events and other mass gatherings, but everything else is trying to stay as normal as possible. “The idea is more to minimize the number of casualties over the long term,” one official explained to the New York Times. “And that’s completely unique. All other countries are firefighting in the short term.”
In other words, our fear and widespread uncertainty is leading most of us to defer this problem until a later date while giving off the false-impression of immediate control. The virus will return as soon as we come back out. It doesn’t die when we hide away in our homes. It lays dormant, waiting for an easy target that’s out in the open–you know, where living takes place. The only way to beat coronavirus is to confront it, fight it, become immune to it (through our own antibodies or eventual antiviral therapies), and hope the most vulnerable among us can stay shielded while the healthy among us do the heavy lifting.
Make no mistake: I’m all for limited social distancing and low-tech options. For example, stay at home if you’re sick or elderly or have serious health issues. Wash your hands with increased frequency, which is scientifically proven to destroy coronavirus on contact. Get a full night’s sleep, which is proven to help our immune systems fight off foreign agents. Maybe ban handshakes for a while in favor of those amazing reverent bows that the Japanese do. And maybe sometimes cancel large gatherings that number in the thousands or at least pass out extra hand sanitizer to keep the surge down to levels that hospitals and medical professional can handle.
Sadly, many local and global leaders have already pushed the nuclear button, if not for two weeks then longer. This was always going to hurt. But the way we’ve collectively reacted (i.e. panic-buying from stores, widespread closures, consequent economic decline) is going to make this hurt a whole lot more. There’s nothing you or I can do about it. The good news is there’s no indication that food manufacturing and delivery shipments will cease. Most critical work will continue, it seems, at least if total lockdown countries like China and Italy have already shown to be the case.
Better yet, there are several things each of us can do to weather this unprecedented storm—eight, in fact. And I hope that together we can embrace the following to get through this painful season sooner rather than later.
- Accept that you can’t control everything. This is anxiety management 101. Powerlessness is a part of life. Hoarding toilet paper and water won’t change your fate. So accept the fact that we can’t control this. Instead of thinking that maybe we can, we should accept that we can’t and then do the best that we can within those confines.
- Limit your exposure to news. Is the next closure, infection spike, screen refresh, or market crash really going to impact you that much? Probably not. If you want to avoid myopic worrying, step away from breaking news and take a breather—maybe an entire weekend. Doing so works wonders for peace and sanity.
- Hope for the best. It’s more likely that only parts of society will close or fail rather than wholesale failure. In other words, you can trust in the system. When Americans first started clearing out grocery shelves, my wife and I trusted that delivery trucks would keep coming. And tonight after many of the early crowds had passed, we got our grocery fill. Society is a beautifully complex system built especially for social creatures like us. It works far more often than it fails, because we work together better than any other species in the known universe. In short, humans are awesome, especially in troubling times. So count on them to help you power through.
- Identify what you don’t know. You are not clairvoyant. You can’t predict how this turns out. So don’t try or at least catch yourself when you start making sweeping generalizations like, “This is gonna turn into the apocalypse and will be the first of an increasing number of life-threatening viruses.” Not even the World Health Organization or Centers for Disease Control know that. So in addition to accepting that you’re not in control, accept what you don’t actually know before making scary forecasts to yourself and others.
- Say aloud the worst-possible scenario so you can hear how ridiculous it sounds. My wife is good at this. What’s the worst that could happen? Answer that question as truthfully as you can. Usually when you do, you’ll hear first-hand how stupid or unlikely your fears are. For example, let’s assume resupplies stopped next week. What’s the worst that could happen? We’d scrounge around our pantry for a few days or weeks, start sharing or helping each other as needed, then all of us would die if the military didn’t start airdropping supplies. That would suck but it’s also highly unlikely.
- Reflect on past instances of uncertainty and how you overcame them. In my lifetime, I survived depressing grunge music, 9/11 terrorists attacks, and the Great Recession. The latter two were especially hard but the vast majority of us made it out alive. The vast majority of us will also survive coronavirus. There will be some scars and casualties. But there will always be those two things in life. In addition to death and taxes, scars and casualties are a certainty.
- Keep moving forward with optimistic plans. You won’t be able to do everything you might want to do right now. But you can still do a lot. For example, getting outdoors wasn’t canceled. Music wasn’t cancelled. Family wasn’t cancelled. Reading wasn’t cancelled. Singing wasn’t cancelled. Dancing wasn’t canceled. Laughing wasn’t cancelled. Playing games wasn’t cancelled. Parks weren’t cancelled. Letting the sun hit your face wasn’t cancelled. Hope wasn’t cancelled. There’s so much we can each do.
- Ask for help. I get buy with a little help from my friends. When I need someone to talk to, I call, text, or invite them to lunch or dinner. I make plans with family and keep on living as best as I can. Just tonight we went swimming followed by pizza and ice cream. I feel great. But only because I reached out to people I love.
Again, this is gonna hurt. It’s a shame that negative herd mentality will cause a lot more unnecessary pain than we would have suffered had we just taken simple measures to flatten the curve, as opposed to the panic-inducing, flatten at all cost measures we’ve been making. At some point something will give, and we’ll go back to accepting the risks and move on.
Because a life lived in fear is not a life worth living. That much I know.