In the Midst of the Coronavirus Crisis, We Must Start Envisioning the Future Now

 

Author: Masha Gessen
Source: The New Yorker
Date: March 25, 2020
 
What made my predicament more difficult was that the medical advice I got wasn’t wrong. Preventive surgeries were the best options available for me to live a longer life. But the advice was dispensed without regard for, or at times even acknowledgment of, the damage that these surgeries would do to my health. I agonized over the risks, the uncertainties, and the irreversible nature of my decisions. In the end, I choseThe New Yorker’s coronavirus news coverage and analysis are free for all readers.
 
In the United States, we are in a similarly terrible predicament now, as a society, as I was as a person with a body. The measures we are taking to save ourselves from a global pandemic of the novel coronavirus are changing us in fundamental, possibly irreparable ways. By instituting lockdowns and deploying a variety of emergency powers across the country, we are destroying our economy, our social fabric, and our political system. We will never be the same. Whether we change for both the better and the worse, as opposed to the solely catastrophic, will depend on how mindful we remain of the damage we are doing as we attempt to save ourselves from the pandemic.
The economy has already taken the biggest sudden hit in memory. Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their jobs, and many more will become unemployed in the coming weeks. Inequalities in wealth, opportunity, and access to health care have become even more glaring than they were just a couple of weeks ago.
The social fabric is being torn in unprecedented ways, owing to school closings, a widespread shift to working from home, social distancing, sheltering in place. Whereas we used to share dozens of experiences a day with friends, acquaintances, and strangers—from riding the subway to working in an office, standing in line at lunch, going to a concert, eating at a restaurant, chatting to an Uber driver—many of us have been reduced to sharing only isolation and the fear of chance encounters, if either of those can be said to be shared.
Our political system, frayed as it was, is under extraordinary stress. The Supreme Court has delayed cases. The Justice Department is seekingTrumpusingIn the past week, several high-profile writers have raised the possibility that emergency measures taken against the pandemic are too drastic. The founding director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, David Katz, writing in the Times, has arguedechoedinstituting widespread testingcareensThe low bar set by the incompetent, self-obsessed, lying President makes any halfway-competent public servant sound brilliant. In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s popularity seems to have spiked simply because he is acting and speaking rationally. “In this time of crisis, with little concrete information available, I need Cuomo’s measured bullying,” Rebecca Fishbein wroteSo what do we do now that so much economic, social, and political damage has already been done? We have to start talking about the damage, and thinking about tomorrow. We have to recognize that what we are doing to avoid being killed by a virus is also killing us as a society. We have to make it a priority to restore the social fabric.
One tool that will be necessary for this project is an antibody test, which will tell people whether they’ve already had the coronavirus and recovered from it. (Antibody tests for the novel coronavirus exist, but the tests that are currently available—or, for most people, not available—are tests that check for the presence of the virus. People who have already recovered will test negative.) It is currently assumed that people who have recovered from the infection might have immunity to it, at least for a period of time. Provided they’ve been quarantined for enough time, these could be the people who can volunteer at hospitals, with food and service delivery, at schools. A large enough number of people with immunity, mobilized intelligently, could not only help prevent new infections but also help remedy some of the inequalities that the crisis has exacerbated.
 
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