Updated: Mar 20, 2020
I wish it were that simple.
We are now in the midst of one of the most sinister global pandemics in human history. The corona virus is circling the planet at a blistering pace with entire countries shutting down, major athletic events and group activities canceled, and air travel under a literal cloud of fear.
We are all coping with the threat of infection in our own ways. Whether it’s watching our 401(k)s vanish or trying to find hand sanitizer at the corner drugstore or worrying about our jobs if we don’t go to work and finding child care for our kids who are shut out from closed-down schools.
The effects on our lives have yet to be felt physically, financially, and globally.
In my world of medicine, there is the palpable concern that the healthcare delivery system will be overwhelmed with critically ill patients in respiratory distress. And the concern by healthcare workers of becoming infected with this virus.
We as a culture and as individuals are circling the wagons. We recognize that this is not business as usual, and some are doing the right thing to help each other during these unprecedented times. It feels a lot like the misery on September 12, in the wake of 9/11 when we realized life had changed dramatically and forever.
No individual, no piece of real estate on the planet is immune, and with no vaccine on the horizon to protect us against this new threat to our very existence, we need to be vigilant with prudent precautionary measures. Without being too dramatic, the survival of the human species depends on it.
Let’s take a look at some noteworthy examples.
We recognize that the handshake is now not appropriate. A fist bump, maybe not either. When the coast is clear, will we all return to familiar handshakes and hugs? Or stop with uncertainty about whether to extend a hand or just smile and step back into our personal space?
Will business meetings return to conference rooms instead of virtual teleconferencing? Or will we find those virtual meetings just as productive?
Will we find hand sanitizers everywhere once supplies return to store shelves? Maybe we’ll each carry our own and actually use them when warm water and soap are not available. Can we feel comfortable opening doors without a paper towel in a public restroom or will we still pull our hands inside our sleeves to touch surfaces?
Can we ever overcome our squeamishness about airplane armrests and tray tables (and air travel itself in a closed airspace), or will we carry sanitizer wipes and do a swipe before we get out the neck pillow and headphones? Wear a mask?
And grocery carts. Public handrails. Elevator buttons. Computer keyboard and mouse. Even the stapler on a coworker’s desk. What will we handle with caution and a palmful of Purell from now on?
Who among us hasn’t startled when someone nearby sneezes or coughs? Especially on a bus or subway, train or plane. Even in a line (and it will be a while before anyone finds themselves in a crowded public venue for a basketball game, music concert, or national speaker).
And who among us wants to walk into a nursing home or healthcare waiting room? I don’t.
What will our world be like on the other side of this virus?
Our world is sure to change. Recall how manufacturers stepped up to seal products after the Tylenol poisonings. Every product from aspirin to toothpaste to crackers is sealed and taped shut. All because some deranged individual wanted to poison people. How will our world adapt? How will we change?
The professional public health experts, policy leaders, the governmental officials in the infectious disease centers clearly have a crushing responsibility as this pandemic ensnares our world.
But we, as everyday citizens, recognize the seriousness of the issues and our need to be responsible citizens. The power is in our hands in our global village. There are no second chances; this is not a dress rehearsal. We have one chance and we need to get it right.
I urge you to follow the guidance from health experts. Help slow the advance of this virus as our talented researchers develop treatment and prevention for it. And, yes, please wash your hands.