From where I sit, after studying the COVID-19 pandemic around the world, it’s becoming increasingly obvious to me that it is time to get back to normal. And that needs to be our goal – not necessarily a “new normal.” unless that includes things like Medicare-for-all. But a time for people to get back to the business of their lives.
The reality is, understanding of this pandemic has been flawed from the beginning. I don’t necessarily think that there was criminal intent in things like having a lockdown. I think that our government officials acted as they had to, with the best available information. But as information has continued to emerge, most importantly how long the virus has been around, it’s pretty obvious to me that at least in Washington state, we’ve been saturated with coronavirus for a lot longer than we give the bug credit for.
Lockdowns should be lifted immediately — that much is clear. Lockdowns only work if you can effectively screen the virus out of an area. And that might be possible in places like New Zealand, or Taiwan — both islands. But like it or not, we live in a continental ecosystem, with so many points of connection. If the virus is contagious — and I believe it is — it is now everywhere. Seattle was a leading epicenter of the initial wave, along with New York, and peaks have passed.
For those who want to maintain that we are in for wave after wave of virus, until we’re all dead, while I understand your fear, there’s little evidence.
Wave after wave means that no one is capable of building immunity to the virus. If that were the case, we wouldn’t have study after study showing the virus much further along than we already thought, through antibody tracing. Admitting that they were correct about some of the pandemic, while being wrong about other parts, should be something that the epidemiologists should be doing. But you can look at the data yourself.
The media could help as well. You can tune into any news site and find a new, bizarre twist to the COVID epidemic. But the reality is also that we live in a country of 320 million people.
The mortality rates seem to hover somewhere between 1.2 and 3 times the flu. The deeper tragedy of the pandemic is it shows how poorly we’ve treated certain populations in our society, and how they saw the effects first. But instead of continuing locking down everywhere, we need to fix our social safety net and right these wrongs. Having a ton of our small businesses go out of business will hardly help these populations. And the peaks have passed.
I still support some level of social distancing, wearing a mask in public and absolutely not attending super-spreader events, where singing or yelling together spreads droplets. We now know that drives outbreaks.
But I also think we need to take comfort in the fact so many people are asymptomatic. Instead of interpreting this as some “silent killer,” what it also means is the population is building immunity. And we’re all safer.
There are things we can do to protect ourselves from the virus, and we should do them. But we should follow the lead of other countries around the globe that are getting back to their normal lives. And not condemn people for advocating it.
The reality we have to face is that most of our actions have been ineffectual. But it’s more a lesson for next time. We got lucky, because the bug wasn’t as bad as it could have been.
We have to let go of our fear and get back to our lives.
If you have a job that lets you stay inside, and you’re afraid, then you should. But lots of people don’t. And they need to eat, too.
Chuck Pezeshki is a professor in mechanical and materials engineering at Washington State University.