by James Wallace Harris
All my friends bring up the same topic: When will this be over? It’s also a popular topic on social media, for newspaper columnists, and talking heads on television. Of course, no one knows the future, but we all want too.
Since the pandemic began I’ve become a news junky, compulsive reading dozens of Flipboard articles each day, The New York Times, even adding new TV sources like local news which I’ve avoided for decades, and on some occasions even checking to see what’s being reported from the Bizarro World of Fox News.
Everyone is betting all their hope on a vaccine, and the consensus seems to be it won’t be available for 12-18 months. However, I have read reports that throw doubt on that. First, we might not be able to develop a vaccine for coronaviruses like we do for influenza viruses — remember, we don’t have vaccines for colds (rhinovirus). That’s pretty scary, but dozens of research sites around the world are working on a vaccine, some even claiming they will have a vaccine ready by this September. However, I have also read that a vaccine for SARS turned out to have harmful side-effects. I’m quite anxious to get vaccinated. I get the flu shot every year and let my doctor load me up with any other vaccine she thinks I should have. But in this case, I might keep sheltering in place and following social distancing until I read they have done extensive testing on a coronavirus vaccine.
To further cloud the vaccine hope, I read the fastest they ever developed a new vaccine was four years, and usually takes 10-20 years. However, we might be seeing a Battle of Dunkirk miracle because over 70 research sites are working on a vaccine to rescue us, and that might produce extremely fast results.
I’m not a scientist so it’s hard to completely understand all the news stories I’m reading. But I have read that SARS-Cov-2/Covid-19 is already mutating into different strains. And I keep reading about people who have experienced the disease, recovered, and then tested positive for a second time. WTF! But remember we sometimes get multiple strains of flu each year, and flu shots are sometimes aimed at multiple strains. It’s a real crapshoot. What if they develop a Covid-19 vaccine, everyone feels safe, starts socializing, return to work and school, and then catches a new strain? That’s going to be depressing. Then there’s all that talk about a Second Wave.
Now that coronaviruses are in the human population, will we have to worry about new strains every year like the flu and colds? If only China could have eradicated Covid-19 like they did SARS. Now it’s probably permanently in the human population. Like the flu, every strain of coronavirus will be different. SARS was deadlier but didn’t spread as easily as Covid-19. What if the new normal is always having to worry about the latest strain of a coronavirus? The cold/flu/coronavirus season might become the norm.
Scientists don’t know if coronaviruses will be seasonal, or even if it is affected by hot weather. It was spreading to countries in the southern hemisphere this winter. There are plenty of diseases that always exist in the human population that aren’t seasonal.
I read another article, which I fear to mention because it might inspire reckless action. There are people who have gotten and recovered from Covid-19 who are already back to work and are socializing. Some have even said they feel guilty because they can go out, but they also said they feel invincible. As more people get the disease and go back to work and socializing, I worry many people will be tempted to just catch the disease hoping to gain natural immunity. But that’s playing Russian Roulette. Too many young healthy people are dying.
Until we know how long immunity lasts and how often new strains will pop up, depending on natural immunity is not yet practical. It could take years for humans and coronaviruses to adapt to each other and we have an understandable relationship with the coronavirus like we do colds and flues.
My worry is this won’t ever be over. Not in the sense we can go back to the way things were. My guess is we’ll develop a new normal. We’ll start getting tested all the time, we’ll develop high-tech infection tracking after hashing out privacy issues, and hopefully, we’ll have a variety of vaccines to take each year. But wearing masks might become standard, and people at risk will become extremely wary of socializing. We might completely revamp society to avoid all kinds of diseases. We should not forget that global warming is causing tropical diseases to move north. And many drugs are becoming impotent at curing old diseases we once controlled.
We may find massive travel and massive social events to be impractical. We might have to move away from the trend of massive urbanization. Human societies are becoming the perfect culture for diseases. We need to solve the problems of global warming, pollution, and overpopulation. They all interact with each other to create a lethal environment for humans. What if the next outbreak of SARS or Ebola isn’t contained and spreads like SARS-Cov-2? What if HIV/AIDS had been airborne infectious? What if Zika spreads worldwide? We might want universal healthcare to maximize the health security of everyone. Ultimately, there won’t be any place the .1 percent can fly or sail to avoid the contagious.
We need to consider if this current pandemic might be a wake-up call that normal is no longer practical.
12 thoughts on “When Will This Be Over?”
For some reason I get a different feeling this time around. I remember when SARS was a big deal in 2003. I was in the airline business at the time so the effects on the business were substantial through restrictions on air travel etc. Aside from the fact that COVID-19 is so prolific in spite of some relatively severe restrictions on movement and contact, its the unknowns that get my attention. This one is not going away easily or soon. From the reading I’ve done the 2 big questions seem to be:
1) Is it seasonal? …can we look forward to seeing this strain every fall as apart of the vaccine ‘roulette’ each year?
2) What is the rate of mutation? ….will this virus mutate more often than an annual cycle?
From the expert opinion to date it seems that we can look forward to spikes in infection rates until such time as a definitive vaccine is developed. I too am confused about how long the process will take? I read that it took 20 mths to develop a vaccine for SARS just to make it ready for human testing! So we could be more than 2 years out before testing/production/ distribution is available for COVID-19??
In the meantime I can see the following sequence unfold with the ‘new’ normal
1) A realization dawns that human corona viruses or any other potential infectious agents are to be expected. That they will occur more frequently.
2) Development of a new protocol for international cooperation and funding research in conjunction with a rapid intervention and mitigation strategy
…think Nuclear deterrence and the policy of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) I remember the classroom drills and what to do when the siren wailed in your neighbourhood. The direct line that connected the war rooms of the US and Soviet Union as the last chance to prevent miscalculation. To this day the ‘football’ is never far from the President
3) Technology in the form of individually administered testing. Today we wear fitments on our wrist for monitoring exercise routines and basic bodily functions or conditions (Type 11 diabetes). I can see a time (not to distant future…!) where monitoring vital signs becomes so sophisticated that these artifacts can reliably alert a citizen that their immune system has been activated or compromised as the case maybe. From there a simple follow up with a device in the home as ubiquitous as coffee maker or microwave oven. The read out may take overnight and provide a action report first thing in the morning. Meanwhile the results have already been wirelessly transmitted to an ‘activation’ center. A followup appointment is issued (as required) as well as immediate actions to take I.E Shelter in place until further advised or clear.
Meanwhile your location and ID is monitored for potential contact tracing in the event of ‘cluster alert’ and the like. All steps are sequenced by algorithms (…no individual human decision making required, IE: no errors or miss judgments)
Basically this type of protocol is agreed to in advance by authorities in all jurisdictions internationally. Every citizen has rights as well as responsibilities. We all have a mutual self interest in survival as well as minimizing the impact on the economy and our individual livelihoods. The majority of folks will get use to the idea of a prescribed loss of privacy as a favorable risk trade off.
What I’m suggesting above could be a reality in all aspects inside of 3 years. Maybe in time for the next infection
I believe electronic contact tracing could be ready pretty quickly, maybe even before a vaccine could be widely used. I didn’t think about a Fitbit style infection sensor. That’s a neat idea. That might take longer, and might be very expensive at first, but the evolution of electronic sensors is mind-blowing. Designing a Fitbit to spot specific pathogens would be impractical, but if we could create one that could just detect changes in the immune system, it would be good enough. The person would be alert they are sick and could then get the appropriate test. They would also be alert to quarantine themselves. That’s a great idea brgcorbett.
Although I do agree with your suggestion of ID monitoring during epidemics, I also have great mistrust in how they will be allowed to be used in the future. Perhaps one day even becoming the norm getting fitted with one right after birth? Sounds a little sci-fi and far-fetched out loud until you realize how advantageous tracking every individual for life would be to the evils of consumerism. Not to mention government surveillance.
Just look at the public tracking’s that already exist. Both online, in our devices and in our public streets via cameras. The stretch to one day, being fitted with an individual personal ID monitor — may not be a stretch at all?
…I think we gave up all pretense to privacy anyway once the cell phone was widely adopted. We opted consciously or not for convenience over potential loss of anonymity. The real challenge is to hold authorities or any agency accountable for tracking our ID….”getting fitted for one right after birth…” is not too far off. The old birth certificate card will be replaced with your unique marker inserted just under the skin below your ear right behind the edge of the jaw bone.
Traditionally we have measured freedom as free from coercion by another or group (authority). However if the threat is not imminent or does not require our intervention we tend to just carry on with our existence and pay no mind to any potential loss of same. I guess there will come a time when that device in our skull becomes a 2 way street
If they could use technology to accurately do contact tracking for disease, they could also use it for crime tracking. It indeed would be opening a can of worms. But what if the pandemic was ebola? I bet people would beg for such technology. We will sell off our privacy for a price, we just haven’t decided on the price yet. Sooner or later we’ll be forced to reopen the economy. If we don’t want hundreds of people dying every day in every city, we’ll be forced to try new things. However, the Apple/Google solution is voluntary, based on Bluetooth, and probably won’t be effective. To really work electronic contact tracking would need to be based on the universal use of broadband GPS and as soon as anyone tests positive automatically be added to the database system by law. Even with such a draconian tool, they could still protect people’s civil rights. But would they?
In the end it’s all about trade off’s. Individual brains make them on a moment to moment basis throughout our conscious existence. Authority or those in an unofficial position to make those trade off’s on our behalf will do so in turn based on their own best interests. Again, as long as we are not facing an imminent threat perceived or real, life goes on.
When a contagion comes along with sufficient affect to cause a given level of disruption to get our attention, than to your point we’ll give up that much more of our autonomy, if we believe it will get us back to some ‘normal’
In terms of technology,…things are moving faster than we might think…
I still don’t have a proper handle on exactly how dangerous SARS-CoV-2 really is. Why is it that some people are not severely affected, while others die? Age is a factor, and so are certain other conditions, but that’s not an airtight rule; just a generalization.
One minute we hear that Boris Johnson is experiencing “mild symptoms”, the next we hear that he’s in hospital “as a precaution”, then he goes to intensive care, and the next thing I hear from Boris himself is that he could easily have died.
I also hear that the majority of patients who go onto a ventilator, die anyway.
Will air travel ever recover? A passenger plane is an excellent place to get infected. Even if air travel is thrown completely open again, will we ever see the same volumes? A lot of people simply won’t want to fly any more. How many airlines will go under?
I’m fearful too, Piet. We don’t go out. Last week we ordered our groceries and picked them up without going into the store. We might even start having them delivered. I’m slightly agoraphobic and love staying at home, but even I want to get out more. My extroverted friends are going nuts. If Trump reopens the economy and people start going out more now, I expect that infections and deaths will skyrocket, making it even scarier to go out. However, imagining a collapsed economy is a nightmare.
I’m exactly like you in some key respects—I like staying at home, too. I’m not an outdoors person, I’m afraid. I love nature, but I’m fine with seeing it through a window. Nevertheless, I do like going shopping, if only because I’ll never see any of the world beyond my house if I don’t. Delivery of stuff may not work as well where I live. For one thing, what I buy depends to a great extent on what’s in the store, and what isn’t. I buy peripheral stuff such as snacks mostly because I see them. Picking them out online just isn’t any fun, and heaven knows we need whatever fun is available nowadays. But I’m totally down with the masking, disinfecting, handwashing, and the rest of the drill.
“We need to solve the problems of global warming, pollution, and overpopulation.”
So along comes this little virus, something that could potentially kill millions of humans. And with millions of humans gone, not riding around in cars, not flying around in jets, I mean, by virtue of nothing else than millions of humans just not being “here,” well, wouldn’t that help “solve” those problems?
Just me, playing Devil’s Advocate….
James, stay safe and be well.
Air pollution levels are down since the pandemic forced us indoors. But for the virus to make significant changes it would have to kill off a large percentage of humanity. I doubt you’d want that, Randy. So far less than 2 million people have been officially infected, with 115,000 deaths. That’s still less than .002 percent death rate, and look what that’s done to the world-wide economy.
Jim, I applaud your caution with the coronavirus. We don’t know a lot about Covid-19. Can people who recovered from the coronavirus get it again? Can we test enough people (like South Korea and Taiwan did) to control Covid-19? Will a vaccine for the coronavirus be available in a year? Plenty of questions, few answers so far. Our Old Normal is gone. The New Normal is on the horizon, but a lot of people won’t like the social restrictions that come with it.