COVID-19: How Will History Judge Us?

COVID-19: How Will History Judge Us?

Covid-19 will have claimed the lives of more than 600,000 Americans while leaving millions more with lingering symptoms. Even as scores of survivors must mourn the loss of their loved ones to this devasting disease, there are those who submit to conspiracies, and question the reality of this virus. Such dichotomous thinking is nothing short of shocking. The politicization of mask wearing and physical distancing, coupled with population densities have left some states discrepantly disaffected. Americans lie in wait of the next statistic of death, loss and mutations, even as we patiently await our shot at vaccination. When all is said and done, how will be look back upon the tumult of 2020?  Will we receive a thumbs up from the court of public opinion? Or will we record our errors with regret as we mourn the magnitude of our losses. How might we be judged for our responses to this once in a century pandemic? I ponder this question and offer my reflections.

I remember meeting a 77-year-old gentleman during a vaccine trial enrollment. He had a measured demeanor while addressing the pandemic, surmising, when did mask wearing become a question of blue or red. No more than wearing a seatbelt is a Democrat or Republican issue, is wearing a mask a political ask. He shared clarity of thought and compelling metaphorical wisdom. To turn his phrase, wearing as seatbelt or donning a mask need not be a political undertaking, merely a safe one.

Trends come and go. We see that in music and in fashion. But what of dangerous and avoidable trends that we may try to mitigate, such as a levee break, a Pacific tsunami, or the next global pandemic. When the Pacific Tsunami of 2004 claimed over 225,000 lives in Indonesia and neighboring Pacific countries, an alarm was triggered among the world’s geologists, and a cooperative to ensure that anticipatory measures and collaboration among the world’s scientists was renewed. Hurricane Katrina unmasked the divisions and inequities prevalent in racially divided communities in the US. The pandemic of 2020 has triggered equal pause for reflection on global preparedness and response to conflict.

We were all caught compromised and unprepared for the deadly and novel virus. It falls upon the world’s scientists and leaders to identify how this virus came about, why the acknowledgement of the contagion proved so sluggish, and what can be done to prevent this from happening again. Such collaboration relies on trust. We must trust the Chinese to allow the world’s scientists into its hospitals and labs in the spirit of collaborative data gathering. We must believe that we are all part of the solution, and we must take hate out of the process. Usage of slander, xenophobic rhetoric and demeaning epithets only serve to divide and perpetuate mistrust. Hate crimes have escalated against people of Asian origin. Fears of virus acquisition, anger over lost jobs and revenue, cabin fever from efforts to physically distance, and the inability to travel for work and leisure are all comprehendible fomenters of frustration and unrest. But hate, mistrust and blame have never solved interpersonal problems, and will not mitigate this epic global crisis.

Our problem is not an American one. The world’s citizens have been asked to take stifling measure to promote mitigation. This is about the global survival against a non-discriminating and invisible offender. That safe practices have become a threat rather than a solution leaves me wondering: when did we become so selfish? When did we decide that the liberty of the individual prevailed over life of the whole? When did Governors and law makers decide to place freedom to assemble over the urgency to shelter in place? And when did we decide that blaming and hate were alternatives to commiseration and solutions. How will we explain this aberration to our judges?

I ask you to take ‘me’ out of the equation and replace it with us. Take the US out of the vantage point and replace it with the global ‘we’. We are the world – an important piece of a 7 billion whole. When we realize that this virus has disaffected every single nation and its people, that mothers and children mourn in Italy and Africa, just as families do here in America, we might become appropriately sobered. Like visiting New York City for the first time, awe-struck and dwarfed by the enormity of its skyscrapers, may we see ourselves as smaller than the problem itself. With humility, might we calmly negotiate the asks and the terms of engagement. With sincerity and composure, may we mask and distance even as citizens the world over have been tasked to do. With pondered reflection, we can then ask the appropriate questions and answer the call to action, not reaction, in this costly crisis.  We can respectfully thank our frontline workers who continue to sacrifice days and nights to manufacture PPE, who clean ICUs and classrooms, and who deliver unprecedented healthcare to meet the demands of life over death. We can humbly learn to mitigate our reactions and work on manageable solutions.

History tells us our ancestors were never as fortunate as we are to have lived in a time where not one, but half a dozen vaccines would be devised within months of a plague’s descent. Yet here we are with monoclonal antibodies, antiviral remedies and promising vaccines at our disposal. We are collaborating with the globe’s scientists and manufacturers, we are gathering in stadiums for the targeted dispensation of a million doses per day, and our only personal demands: patience and a cloth over our faces. How will we judge ourselves? How will history depict us? Will we lay down novel blueprints ahead of the next pandemic to ravage the global stage? Will we be looked to for our resilience and our innovation? Will we be sobered by our collective will to live? The optimist in me says yes. So long as we stand unified in our will to survive, we can, and we must prevail so we may gather safely once more.

2020