Do you feel lost and anxious about the coronavirus crisis and the murky future that rises in its wake? You are not alone.
At the moment, the most urgent and important thing you can do is stay home (if you have the privilege to do so), wash your hands, become teachers for your children and wait it out.
But there is a reckoning coming. We can all feel it.
The number of dead and infected in this country rises every day. A staggering 46,000-plus people have already died, in about two months no less. We have not even tackled the first wave of this virus, and we are already being warned that the second wave could be even worse.
The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Robert Redfield, told The Washington Post this week, “There’s a possibility that the assault of the virus on our nation next winter will actually be even more difficult than the one we just went through.”
That would mean a second, worse wave would overlap the election. How do we conduct a legitimate election or a reliable census in the middle of a pandemic?
So far, there is no approved medical treatment for the virus and no vaccine. Social distancing is the only tool we have, yet we know that we can’t maintain it indefinitely.
Money has to be earned; rent has to be paid; food has to be put on the table. Housing volatility and food insecurity are also dangerous and deadly.
What happens when the rent comes due, even after having been deferred during the early days of the crisis? Where are the most vulnerable supposed to find that money? What happens if a wave of post-virus evictions and foreclosures sweep the housing market?
What happens if small businesses are forced to close en masse? What becomes of all those workers? What happens to their families?
Sure, eventually, other businesses will likely rise where those fell, but it will not be an immediate one-for-one switch-over. There will be pain, and it will be sustained.
Furthermore, what happens to the educational system when schools finally open? What about the lost time that students have suffered? What about all the students who didn’t have the technology to fully participate digitally? What about all those trapped in households where existential stresses have led to abuse and negligent behavior has disincentivized logging on? How will all that time and lost momentum be recaptured?
Beyond that, how will the crisis reshape higher education? Some institutions will undoubtedly be forced to close. More precisely, as a recent McKinsey and Co. report put it: “Historically black colleges and universitiesare anchor institutions, sites of cultural identity, talent incubators, and regional economic engines. But the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to significantly — and quickly — hobble them.”
Then, there are the quality-of-life questions. One of the great tragedies of this virus, one that receives less discussion because it can sound trivial in the face of so much death and suffering, is how will the very nature of human, communal interaction be altered?
I personally don’t think these discussions are small or trivial or inconsequential at all. Culture and custom nurture and anchor us. Without them, we feel lost; we are lost.
How will we celebrate a life or mourn a death with no gatherings or funerals? A friend of mine in New York just lost her elderly father to the virus. For the funeral, the guests were limited to 10 people, they had to essentially dress their elderly mother in a hazmat suit to keep her safe, and there were no speakers. (They feared speaking was an easy way to spread the virus.) Instead, people read verses and sang songs via Zoom.
What happens when we are no longer marking life’s milestones — a graduation, a promotion, a wedding — in person with the people we love?
How will the congregational energy of restaurants, bars and nightlife be altered and transformed? Will there be a further ostracizing of the elderly, for their own good?
What will happen to the handshake and the hug?
There are so many worrisome questions about what a post-virus world and post-virus America will look like.
And that is if we can get to post-virus.