Boring pandemic


Boring! It's going to be boring for so many reasons!

Fighting the coronavirus pandemic doesn't look anything like an action movie or a thriller, except maybe in the hopsitals and ambulances where health care workers are trying to keep people breathing. There are no cinematic sprays of blood and gore to remind us about how deadly this all is, just a lot of trouble breathing.

Even in the heroic work at hospitals, it's more about the volume of the work being rather than the nature of the work. It's normal to have seriously sick (and even contagious) patients in hospitals, just not a lot at once. If 2% of the population suddenly needs substantial medical attention, that's drastic overload. The goal for 2020 looks not so much curing the virus but slowing its spread to a pace our systems can handle.

The most effective tool public health officials have against coronavirus now and for the near future is isolation. Because it spreads before symptoms appear (and 'community spread' cases from that are already appearing in the western US), that doesn't just mean quarantining patients and travelers. It means that the best way to slow the spread of the virus is to tell everyone to stay home.

Which is boring.

Stay home. Minimize social contact. Avoid friendly gestures like hugs, kisses, and handshakes. Washing your hands all the time (also boring?) helps, but isn't nearly as helpful as just not seeing people.

That creates its own problems, though. Not only do we need to stay home as much as we can, we'll be home and bored and probably even healthy, watching problems grow. All that staying at home (and to a lesser degree the sickness itself) will be disrupting the world we know severely. In the US, at least, we don't have great systems for keeping people's finances stable while (or after) our economy goes on pause.

That stress can combine with a lot of other stresses at home to turn boring into miserable or even dangerous. People who are happy to spend four hours awake plus eight hours sleeping together may find sixteen hours awake and together more than they enjoy. Having kids around all the time will be different, especially in smaller apartments. If someone at home is abusive, if boredom opens bottles that lead to rage, or if power or water go out, staying at home may not be a good answer. It will be especially to find a new place when authorities discourage going out and people are on their guard.

The US also has some unique problems we've largely dismissed as boring. Much of our healthcare system has annual deductibles, which reset at the beginning of the calendar year. That means that people have to pay out of pocket for treatment right now, which makes it harder to get excited about getting checked for coughing and breathing problems. We aren't great about giving people time off, even especially service workers who come into contact with vast numbers of people daily.

We need to embrace the boring, find ways to make it gentler for each other, and get through this.

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This page contains a single entry by Simon St.Laurent published on February 29, 2020 8:28 AM.

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