Monday, March 16, 2020

now what?

What's really unclear to me, as it was with the invasion of Iraq, is: what's the endgame here? What are we trying to accomplish, and what will constitute accomplishing it?

It's clear enough that all these societal shutdowns are intended, not to stop the virus, because it's already embedded too much in the population to make that feasible, but to slow the growth of infections enough to keep the hospitals from getting overwhelmed when people start getting sick. But how long do we keep having to do this? Until everyone's exposed to the virus, despite our attempts to keep them away? So ... the better we are at this, the longer we'll have to keep doing it?

And how long will that be? Months, I'd think. Most arts groups I follow started with cancellations through mid or late March and then extended it to the end of April, with no promise it would stop there. One federal health official suggested a complete lockdown of society for two weeks, but that only makes sense if we assume that everyone's already infected and we're just waiting to see who gets sick, and I doubt that's the case.

Maybe the virus will slow down and get sluggish during the summer, as the flu usually does, and people can peek their heads over the parapets and go back to doing a few normal things. But if that's all that happens, it will come roaring back in the fall, probably worse than ever, which is what the 1918-19 pandemic did. And we'll have to go through the whole weary round again, until a vaccine is ready the next year. And will that clamp it down? And what if acquired immunity is only temporary, as it usually is for similar viruses? The 1918-19 pandemic ended when the virus mutated away from more deadly strains (because they killed their hosts too efficiently), but this virus, while deadly, isn't that deadly, so it's not under so much evolutionary pressure.

In the meanwhile, what about commerce? Some cities are shutting down restaurants. Despite one news report saying California is doing it too, it isn't: the governor says food service remains vital. Of course that may change at any moment, as so many other declarations have. I think I read that some European countries are closing all commercial outlets except groceries, pharmacies, and banks. That may be feasible for a short period, a couple weeks maybe, but after that too many urgent needs of daily life that can't be handled by delivery or mail-order will pile up; I won't name any, because you can too.

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