Coronavirus Will Change the World Forever

Everything we know (and don’t know) about coronavirus, and a peek at what our post-COVID-19 world will look like.

It seems like every news article nowadays is about coronavirus. About 50% of posts on Facebook are now related to the coronavirus. All of us, from news junkies to those who couldn’t care less, are oversaturated with news about the virus. With the constant flow of information, it’s easy to forget how little we actually know about coronavirus. We don’t know exactly how deadly it is or how fast it spreads. We don’t yet have any treatments that have been proven effective. We aren’t even sure how many people have been infected, as testing in many countries is inadequate and many people are unable to get tested, even with symptoms.

The tip of the iceberg

What we do know is that a significant portion of the impact of coronavirus is invisible. The visible portion of the impact, the tip of the iceberg, includes only confirmed positive coronavirus cases. A recent study suggests that for every known case, another five to 10 cases are out there undetected.

Many states are only testing the sickest patients, which means the fatality rate among known cases is higher than that of unknown cases. Undiagnosed coronavirus cases are much less likely to go to a hospital or have severe symptoms because if they did they would likely get tested. The tip of the iceberg, what we see about and read about every day, only includes the sickest patients.

The rest of the iceberg, which may be about five to 10 times larger than the tip of the iceberg, includes asymptomatic cases, misdiagnosed cases, people unable to get tested, and those that recover at home and never seek medical care. The rest of the iceberg also includes those who have died from coronavirus and were never tested. Their deaths may have been attributed to pneumonia, the flu, or some other illness. 

The tip of the iceberg is inaccurate as well. We don’t know how many confirmed cases of the virus will eventually succumb to their illness; we do know that the fatality rate amongst confirmed cases will probably continue rising until we are “over the curve,” as it has in other countries. Even deaths reported from coronavirus may not be entirely accurate. Italy, for example, uses a broader definition for coronavirus deaths, counting any victim that tests positive as a death from coronavirus, even if other illnesses were at fault. This may be part of the reason why the death rate in Italy is so much higher than that of other countries

We know we’re looking at an iceberg. We don’t know how much of the iceberg is underwater or the shape of the iceberg. Our best guess is that the portion of the iceberg that we can’t see is much larger than what we can see, and is made up of many more mild and asymptomatic cases. This means the fatality rate of the virus will almost certainly be lower than it is right now, but that does not mean we can afford to take the coronavirus any less seriously.

Protecting the most vulnerable among us

I’ve heard that the virus is usually only lethal to older people and those with pre-existing conditions more times than I can count. While this may be comforting to those of us who are younger without pre-existing conditions, how do you think this sounds to someone who is more vulnerable to the virus? If the virus was only killing people of a certain race, would that be alright? No!

The virus is most lethal to older people and anyone with a pre-existing condition. That is not a comforting fact to the millions of Americans who are more at risk, and we need to do everything in our power to protect them. It is not okay that this virus “only” kills the more vulnerable among us. Nobody deserves to have their life put at risk for the sake of the economy (even though Texas Lieutenant Governor and senior citizen Dan Patrick says he is “all in” on sacrificing his life for the good of the country), no matter how old they are or how many medical conditions they have.

The damage coronavirus has done and will do to our economy and mental health cannot be overlooked, but I don’t believe we’ve reached a point where we need to start sacrificing the weakest among us to avoid staying indoors and spending less money. The U.S. government has already expanded unemployment benefits and will be sending most of us stimulus checks, but it must do more to take care of everyone affected by the virus. Anyone that experiences a loss of income should be made whole, and anyone that must seek medical care should be able to receive that care without worrying about who will pay for it. 

The scariness of anecdotal evidence

Coronavirus can kill young people, but the risk is much lower for younger people without pre-existing conditions. Based on the amount of articles I’ve read about Americans in their 20s or 30s dying from the virus, though, I would think the risk to younger people was much higher than it actually is. Outliers are reported more often than ordinary cases that recover at home or never get tested. It’s important to take all evidence into account, not just anecdotal evidence, when assessing the risk coronavirus poses to your health. 

The vast majority of cases will recover without any medical intervention. Your odds of recovery are greater if you aren’t overly stressed or worried about the virus. It is healthy to be a little scared, especially if that causes you to change your behavior and do more to protect your health, but it’s just as important to not become extremely worried or anxious about what could happen. The CDC has great advice for reducing stress and learning to cope during the coronavirus pandemic. 

We still need to stay inside

We don’t know exactly how deadly coronavirus is. President Trump’s hunch that the death rate of coronavirus is under 1% may eventually be proven right. No matter how small or large the fatality rate ends up being, ‘flattening the curve,’ and slowing the spread of the virus is necessary to keep our healthcare system from becoming overwhelmed. It’s clear by now that the U.S., along with many other countries, was unprepared for a pandemic.

A vaccine could be at least a year away. Right now we don’t have any proven, effective treatments, although there are treatments being used that hopefully may soon be proven effective. The only thing we can do right now is stay inside and slow the spread. This will give our doctors, nurses, and hospitals time to prepare for what could be an inevitable second wave. This will give our manufacturers time to make the supplies needed by our frontline workers. This will give us time to make sure that anyone can get a test. Staying home will save thousands, possibly even hundreds of thousands of lives. 

Who can we trust?

We haven’t received honest or consistent public guidance. The CDC initially said that there was no reason for healthy people to wear masks in public. There was evidence at the time that the virus could be transmitted by asymptomatic carriers, and that widespread mask usage significantly reduces the spread of the virus. No organization could have said with any level of confidence that healthy people shouldn’t wear masks. Yet the CDC did, and now they’ve reversed course and recommended that everyone use cloth masks in public.

So why did they initially recommend against wearing masks? Well, seeing a bunch of people wearing masks would make the pandemic seem scarier and more real. Grocery stores like Publix initially banned employees from wearing masks because it would have frightened customers. There’s no doubt that widespread mask usage would have made some people realize how serious coronavirus is. There’s another reason, too. The U.S. was completely unprepared and doesn’t even have enough masks for healthcare workers. Telling everyone to wear a mask in public could have taken them out of the hands of doctors, nurses, and those on the front lines who need them the most.

There are much better ways to protect critical healthcare supplies than lying to the American public, though. During a public health emergency, it is crucial for the government to have the trust of the people. Without that trust, people are less likely to follow guidelines on staying indoors. They might not even trust that a vaccine administered by the government is safe. Coronavirus conspiracy theories have been circulating far and wide on social media, no doubt amplified by a distrust in the often false, misleading, and inaccurate messages coming from the U.S. government.

President Trump has, until recently, downplayed the severity of coronavirus. He’s compared it to the common flu, and even gone so far as to say “it is their [the Democrats’] new hoax.” Recently, he reversed course and said “This is a pandemic. I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic.” It is possible that Trump has always known how serious the coronavirus was. I’m sure he had advisors, doctors, and scientists telling him as much. If that is the case, he misled the American public at a time we needed strong leadership the most. 

President Trump has a long history of lying, stretching the truth, or deceiving the public. His lies about coronavirus, though, are worse than anything else he’s ever lied about. No other lie, that I know of, has been responsible for thousands of deaths. Coronavirus may hit the United States harder than any other wealthy nation. It didn’t have to be this way. With consistent, honest public guidance and leadership we could have prevented many, many deaths. 

It appears that President Trump will get his wish; he won’t be remembered for his impeachment. He’ll be remembered as the president responsible for thousands of potentially avoidable deaths, and he won’t be alone. Many other world leaders were completely unprepared for the coronavirus pandemic, even though we received warnings as early as November to prepare for a potentially ‘cataclysmic event.’

What comes next?

The question everyone wants the answer to is when or how life will get back to normal. Getting back to normal will not happen suddenly. Lockdowns won’t be unexpectedly lifted sooner than we think (well, hopefully not, at least). Right now we are still in the “bending the curve” phase of the lockdown. We are starting to see declines in the growth of new cases in certain areas, and eventually the amount of daily new cases should start declining across the country. This assumes that lockdowns remain in place and aren’t lifted prematurely.

Eventually, we may have areas that don’t report any new cases for days, and then weeks. We may reach a point where the entire country only reports a handful of new cases. It is at this point that life could start to return to normal. Those that still have jobs will be able to go back to work. We will be able to enjoy televised sports again, although possibly without fans. Restaurants will reopen, but may not be full again for a long time. 

We will need to test as many Americans as we can for coronavirus antibodies so we can know who has been exposed. It is critical that we aggressively test anyone who may have been exposed to the virus. We must do a much better job tracking the chain of infection from one person to the next. If we don’t, coronavirus could come roaring back and send us into another lockdown.

Life will be weird until a vaccine is made available to the public. After we get the spread of coronavirus under control, we’ll have to remain on our toes and vigilant to ensure another widespread outbreak doesn’t occur. Even after a vaccine is deployed, people may remain more cautious than they were before coronavirus. Malls will be even emptier than they were before, and some retail stores will never reopen. It’s not clear how quickly the tens of millions of Americans that lost their jobs will be able to get back to work, or where they will go back to work.

The September 11th terrorist attacks created two Americas, a pre-9/11 America and a post-9/11 America. Coronavirus will do the same. Some aspects of life before the virus will be unrecognizable in as little as a few months’ time, and some may already be unrecognizable. Will we ever go to gyms like we did before, or will we spend most of our time exercising at home? Now that many of us know we can easily telecommute, will we be allowed to continue? It’s certainly better for the environment. Will we ever interact with strangers like we did before? Will elbow bumps permanently replace handshakes?

The post-coronavirus world will look much different, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Handshakes probably should have gone away a long time ago, and widespread work-from-home culture should have happened years ago. Our need for social connection will not be diminished by coronavirus. It will be a wonderful, happy day when we can once again spend time with friends, family, and loved ones we may not have seen in-person for months. We will not remain isolated in our post-coronavirus world. We will, however, think twice about shaking a stanger’s hand or attending a concert with thousands of people packed in like sardines. I don’t think those changes are negative, and I believe many changes to our world may be positive.

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