Near future and further future

Going northeast out of Inspiration Point in Tilden on my bike

Right now we are shut down, locked down, sheltering-in-place, quarantined, whatever, for the purpose of flattening the curve, the curve being the rate of increase in the number of cases that come to some hospital. The rate, at least as of last night, had not started to bend into a curve — it was still slanting up. In San Francisco the number of cases is doubling every eight days. 

The goal is to make what is now a slightly jerky rising line bend east, even just a little. So people are doing what is possible to avoid contagion — staying home, wearing scarves or bandannas (this is new), keeping 6 feet of distance between each other, not using personal shopping bags in grocery stores, etc. Socializing only with people who you basically share a space with all the time.

Teenagers will find a way to get together even when most of the parks are closed.

For us in the short term, this is not a problem. I’m on some screen almost all day, with breaks to read or practice my cello, but I am in touch with friends and can go for walks in our comfortable neighborhood, going down the middle of the streets without expecting to see any cars come by. Joe and I can sit in our front garden and eat breakfast and talk to neighbors who are out for a walk. I can ride my electric bike up to the gorgeous long ridge top park, Tilden, and get out on the trails and ride for an hour, looking out over the Bay Area. They are closing down the parking lots but I don’t need a parking lot if I’m on my bike.

The idea is that our medical system can’t handle all the people who need care. It is being overwhelmed. There are not enough ventilators, masks, hazmat suits, etc. When the system is overwhelmed by corona virus cases then no one else can get in and get regular medical care. I would have called my primary care doctor about being sun-sensitive, for example — not now. We have a friend who is scheduled for heart surgery, which he needs; will he get it?

Teenagers will find a way to meet even when many parks are closed. Actually, it looks as if there is some distancing going on.

So we are basically locked down in order to give our skeleton-thin, scrape-the-bottom lifeboat of a medical system some time to try to catch up with the tide of sick people who are really only just starting to come in. Apparently we here in California are going to get the crest of the big wave in the next two weeks, middle of April.

But then what? The imagination wanders, trying to think about what the future will look like two, then twenty four months from now.

Eventually, since there is no vaccine for COVID-19, everyone is going to get it. But just because we are all going to get it eventually doesn’t mean we should go out and try to catch it now and get it over with. First, it is really dangerous — all that stuff about young people not getting it, or it only being dangerous for people with pre-existing conditions or low immune systems — turns out to be not exactly true. Somewhat true but not something you can count on. Babies are dying; young men and women in their thirties are dying. Second, if you do get sick and try to go to the hospital, expect to if you’re lucky get a bed on a gurney in the hall, and maybe get taken off a ventilator if they need it for the next guy and your’e not going to make it anyway.

But, once the curve flattens and we build up our healthcare system (good luck with that!) and a vaccine or a treatment is created (12 -18 months from now at the earliest) then, can’t things go back to normal — or at least the way they were?

No. Because the country will look different. Most obviously, a lot of people will have died and will continue to die. Who? In the US, among people I know, it will be people who can’t get medical care (Trump just closed the Obamacare markets, by the way, so people who were hoping to be able to jump onto health insurance are out of luck). People who are old, weak, etc — the people who are vulnerable to it right now because of their own health conditions or their economic condition.

People will also die because of how they have to live. It’s not just cruise ships that are floating petri dishes. So are apartment towers where people stuff themselves into elevators. So are giant nursing homes like Laguna Honda in San Francisco, or VA hospitals. There’s that aircraft carrier in the South Pacific that pulled into Guam with a load of sick sailors. The sailors (many of them) are now housed in hotels along the beachfront. The captain got fired for publicizing the situation on board — like the Chinese doctor who first recognized the spread of coronavirus and mentioned it to his supervisors. He ultimately died of it. Captain Crozier apparently caused a threat to national security by sending an email about the situation to 22 people. How was this a threat to national security? My guess: it drew attention to the fact that every single ship in the Navy is just a floating cruise ship full of people breathing on each other and infecting each other. Which pretty much means the entire US Navy needs to pull into harbors and rent separate hotel rooms for the crew members. This applies to every other Navy, too.

What kind of a Navy would keep its fleet sailing if there were infections on board that might ultimately kill most of the crew? Or even some of it?

Well, maybe we shouldn’t expect to wake up. After all, we’ve got the common cold, which is a corona virus and mutates into something new every year and stays in the population. Then we had SARS, which apparently came from bats in Asia. The MERS which came from camels (?) and spreads mostly within hospitals. Then Zika, of which I heard a health professional say “Zika just petered out.” How? Just mutated away? And there’s dengue and chikagunga and those other ones. So this isn’t going to be the last one. If the population is still there, something will come and get it. I’ve been reading about the Plague of Cyprian that started in Ethiopia in the 240s AD and moved across the Roman Empire east to west, over about two years, wiping out thousands.

I keep thinking of the frogs, which started to grow funny in ponds in Wisconsin back in the 1980s. Then the Golden Frogs that were gone forever from the cloud mountains of Costa Rica.

Other people who will die, sooner rather than later: people in migrant camps, homeless people, people in our immigration detention centers. Nursing homes. The Holyoke, Massachusetts Old Soldiers Home has had 11 or 13 deaths. People who are jammed together into small spaces where they have to run into each other often, and especially those for whom the supply chain for getting food and necessities is fragile.

Published by helenaworthen

Labor educator, retired from University of Illinois, taught at TDT University in Ho Chi Minh City in the Faculty of Trade Unions and Labor Relations. Co-author with Joe Berry of Power Despite Precarity: Strategies for the contingent faculty movement in higher education, forthcoming (August 2021) from Pluto Press.

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