In a crisis when the good of all hinges on the sacrifices of many, or can be unhinged by the irresponsibility of few, “maturity” becomes more crucial than ever. How I am defining maturity includes:
- Being more careful than usual before speaking; choose to encourage rather than discourage: I was grocery shopping the other day, and the cashier immediately wiped down the card reader, my credit card, and every surface within her reach with disinfectant wipes. There were two things I thought of saying. “Do you realize that the instructions on those wipes say ‘the surface must remain wet (from the wipes) for 4 minutes’?” and “thank you.” I only said “thank you for doing that, and for working in these conditions.” Why not the other? No one will keep wiping surfaces like that for 4 minutes. Repeating those instructions might have simply discouraged her. I choose to encourage her.
- Flexibility to switch gears when the need arises: Starting in late January, around the time when the Chinese city of Wuhan was put under lockdown, Chinese communities across the US had sprung into action, organizing donations of masks and protective gear to relieve the massive shortages in Chinese hospitals. But by the time March rolled around, China’s need for supplemental supplies tapered off, while cities in the US became tragically reminiscent of Wuhan in its early days. In response, those same Chinese donation operations that had rallied for Chinese health providers quickly reversed their course to focus on donating supplies from China to US recipients, where hospitals are still so understocked that medical staff have resorted to reusing masks far beyond the requisite contamination window, and wearing trash bags for protection.
- Doing more than just obeying (let alone defying) the rules laid down to protect us all: 430,000 people have arrived in the U.S. since the Chinese officials disclosed the deadly virus in January. Passengers continued traveling from Beijing to Los Angeles and New York under rules exempting Americans from the clampdown, which took place Jan. 31. Roughly 279 flights arrived in the U.S. from China. I won’t even mention the “springbreakers” and other scofflaws, which include “baby boomers” in denial about the dangers.
- Resisting the temptation to use the crisis as an excuse to shirk responsibilities: From Esteban Elizondo, NY Post: Leave it to Yale students to make a crisis about themselves. While worldwide death tolls from the coronavirus grow exponentially every day, these privileged Ivy Leaguers are putting their (supposedly) considerable brainpower into getting out of homework. That’s right. About 24 hours after the semester went online due to coronavirus fears, Yale students demanded a “Universal Pass” policy for the semester. No grades, deadlines or benchmarks. Everyone automatically passes their classes. The university, led by mollycoddler-in-chief Peter Salovey, is feeding this defeatist mentality, allowing Yale students to become accustomed to the university dropping its academic standards whenever they’re mildly inconvenienced. After President Trump got elected, students demanded midterms be canceled because of the adverse effects on their mental health. Professors capitulated. Universal Pass, unsurprisingly, has been framed as a fight for low-income students. Infantilizing the disadvantaged is a typical activist behavior at Yale. Whether protesters are “striking” because of climate change’s effect on indigenous communities or pushing for the nullification of grades because a slipping economy will harm low-income students, the demands of elite Yalies always conveniently line up with those of the underprivileged. But, in reality, this latest crusade is just an excuse to do less work and abolish academic standards altogether. In my four years at Yale, I was consistently shocked by the creative excuses used by my peers to skip classes and exams.
- Using the enforced isolation and “time away” to good advantage: In 1665, “social distancing” orders emptied campuses throughout England, as the bubonic plague raged, killing 100,000 people (roughly one-quarter of London’s population), in just 18 months. A 24-year-old student from Trinity College, Cambridge was among those forced to leave campus and return indefinitely to his childhood home. His name was Isaac Newton and his time at home during the epidemic would be called his “year of wonders.” Away from university life, and unbounded by curriculum constraints and professor’s whims, Newton dove into discovery. Newton himself would say about this forced time away from university life: ‘For in those days I was in the prime of my age for invention & minded Mathematics & Philosophy more than at any time since.’”
- Think long and hard about how you will behave in the worst case scenario: From Ed Yong in The Atlantic: There are three possible endgames: one that’s very unlikely, one that’s very dangerous, and one that’s very long. The first is that every nation manages to simultaneously bring the virus to heel, as with the original SARS in 2003. Given how widespread the coronavirus pandemic is, and how badly many countries are faring, the odds of worldwide synchronous control seem vanishingly small. The second is that the virus does what past flu pandemics have done: It burns through the world and leaves behind enough immune survivors that it eventually struggles to find viable hosts. This “herd immunity” scenario would be quick, and thus tempting. But it would also come at a terrible cost: SARS-CoV-2 is more transmissible and fatal than the flu, and it would likely leave behind many millions of corpses and a trail of devastated health systems.
The third scenario is that the world plays a protracted game of whack-a-mole with the virus, stamping out outbreaks here and there until a vaccine can be produced. This is the best option, but also the longest and most complicated. It depends, for a start, on making a vaccine. If this were a flu pandemic, that would be easier. The world is experienced at making flu vaccines and does so every year. But there are no existing vaccines for coronaviruses — until now, these viruses seemed to cause diseases that were mild or rare — so researchers must start from scratch. It’s likely, then, that the new coronavirus will be a lingering part of American life for at least a year, if not much longer. If the current round of social-distancing measures works, the pandemic may ebb enough for things to return to a semblance of normalcy. Offices could fill and bars could bustle. Schools could reopen and friends could reunite. But as the status quo returns, so too will the virus. This doesn’t mean that society must be on continuous lockdown until 2022. But “we need to be prepared to do multiple periods of social distancing,” says Stephen Kissler of Harvard.
How will YOU be acting during scenario three? This scary epidemic is in the early stages, and my next post shows how badly many “covidiots” are already acting. You will wish this virus could selectively thin them out.