Saturday, April 18, 2020
Prior to December, 2019 most people in the world, under the age of 100, were unfamiliar with the term "pandemic" and its true meaning. Today, most people in the world, over the age of 5, are intimately familiar with not only its meaning but the tragedy that has ensued. As we exceed two million cases worldwide (probably more, we don't know for sure) and nearly 160,000 deaths, panic and fear have increased exponentially. That state of mind is being influenced heavily by our sensationalist news media and governmental reporting that is confusing at best and ominous in its inaccuracy. No one knows anything for certain, the past, the present status, or the future. We know that it is an aggressive virus. We are pretty sure we know where it came from (China). We know that it spread fairly rapidly (globally in less than three months). We know a little about how it spreads from human-to-human. And, we know a few things we can do to protect ourselves (hand-washing, social distancing, self-quarantining and face masks). It is a situation that is not only uncertain but only minimally controllable.
I tend to look at the numbers for some level of comfort. As marginally accurate as they are, they still tell a tale. Using round numbers, 2,000,000 cases is less than .03 % of the world population of 7.8 billion. Again, using round numbers, 158,000 deaths from Covid-19 is less than .0021 % of the world population. That means that the vast majority of the world's population don't know anyone who has died or even been infected with this virus. While no death from disease is easy to accept, so far, this makes the Corona Virus pandemic one of the least devastating global spreads of disease in world history. The Black Death (Plague) in 1346-1353 wiped out half of Europe's population at the time, estimated at 35 million people. Between 20 million and 40 million American's alone died from the Spanish flu epidemic in the U.S. in 1918-19 (100 million worldwide). The Asian Flu pandemic (1957-58), again with its roots in China, took more than one million lives worldwide and killed 116,000 in the U.S. I was twelve at that time, I barely remember it and my adolescent life wasn't affected in the least. Today, at my age of seventy-four, I am a bit more concerned....and, apparently, more vulnerable.
We have seen more viruses in the past 100 years (Polio, H1N1, AIDS, various flu stains) than in all of recorded history, going all the way back to around 430 BC. And yet, this pandemic has devastated the world economy, trashed the stock market gains realized in 2019, caused an unprecedented ban on travel, shut down hundred of thousands of businesses across the U.S., initiated nearly 20 million claims for unemployment and politically motivated our government to initiate stop-gap legislation that will cost taxpayers between 2.2 and 2.5 trillion dollars! Tax dollars we do not have, BTW, and will have to borrow to add to our 20 trillion in national debt.
People ask, "How did we not see this coming?" Well, some people did. President Bush, in 2005, delivered a speech to the National Institute of Health warning of exactly this kind of disaster. Many prominent business people, like Bill Gates, warned us years ago. Even I warned of a world pandemic caused by animal born viruses (see Page 159 in my book, "The World....Our Voyage" - A Travelogue From a World Cruise, published in 2006).
People ask, "Well, if we knew, why didn't we do something to prevent it or be more prepared?" The simple fact is that our government (as well as governments across the globe) lacked the political will to spend the money necessary to avoid or minimize the impact of a "potential disaster". We had too many current disasters, real disasters, to deal with (hurricanes/tornadoes/floods/forest fires, etc.). I guess they were just not thinking of the old saw, "Pay me now or pay me later".
So what is going to happen...next week, next month, in the next six months, next year? I wish I could tell you for certain. But what I believe is that even though we will all remember this event for years to come, like The Great Depression, Pearl Harbor, WWII, the Vietnam conflict, the assassinations of the Kennedy's and MLK, 9/11, etc., this too shall pass. We will rapidly develop the testing procedures and capability necessary, the equipment and facilities to handle the infected, and, finally, the vaccine that will stop this virus in its tracts, much like we did with polio in the U.S. Our economy will recover and, even though I don't think it will be, as President Trump boldly predicts, "better than ever before in the history of our country", it will be a new normal we can live with.
My prayer is just that we can return to a time when social contact, instead of social distancing, will be back. That I will once again be able to shake the hands of friends or new acquaintances instead of offering a virtual fist bump. That I will once again be able to join 100,000 of my fellow fans to root on my Longhorns this fall. That I will, once again, be able to hug my grandchildren without wearing a protective body suit and face mask. And, that God will bless us with a renewed sense of how we address these issues going forward so the next time, and there will be a next time, we can control the situation much better. Oh, and with more availability of toilet paper.