17 May 2020


The Chinese-originated Covid-19 Wuhan Virus, like certain others before it, was transferred by wild animals that were eaten by humans. It is possible that it emerged from infected animals at a lab, but the current pandemic definitely arose when some Chinese ate bats, just as the AIDS epidemic originated from Africans eating monkeys. Thus the surest way to stop such pandemics is to eliminate ingesting “exotic” animals in the first place, never mind cats and dogs. Diseases are clearly transferred when wild animals are eaten, while driving many to extinction. 

As with any crisis we will see the best, as well as the worst in people. Many people are rising to the occasion and doing their best. That does not include the media, which has hit a new low with this pandemic, nor the self-inflicted wounds of some state governments. The worst action taken was forcing nursing homes to take virus patients by the Governors of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. This has resulted in many avoidable deaths at a time when many hospitals are virtually empty and are incurring enormous losses as the elective surgeries they depend upon have been postponed. How many additional deaths have occurred from delayed heart surgeries? Meanwhile over a million health care workers have been laid off as most of the specialties they provide are shut down. 

This is not to say that the suggested or mandated precautions regarding masks, hand washing, etc. should not be followed. They are essential where the virus is rampant, such as in the epicenter here in New York, which has a third of all US cases.  The city is especially vulnerable due to population density, the primacy of subway transportation, and tall building with elevators. But what applies here does not apply elsewhere. 52% of the counties in this country have not had a single death due to the virus. Thus what is essential in metropolitan areas does not apply to rural and exurban areas, so there should be no national mandate applicable to all regions. It will be a long time before New York recovers, but other areas could be open now. 

It is not just economic dislocation that has occurred, but outright economic distortion.  How can some giant companies like Walmart remain open while mom and pop operations are forced to be closed, many of which may never reopen again with the prolongation of these conditions. Small businesses ought to be compensated by the government since it is the state that has shut them down. They employ most of the lowest wage earners who constitute the largest segment of the newly unemployed, and ironically many are earning more from the Economic Impact checks and Unemployment Insurance than they did working, which may portend problems going forward. 

Meanwhile many others are now working from home, and the future prediction of telecommuting may finally have arrived. Many large corporations thought it would be productive to emulate Google with open plan “high performance workspaces,” unwisely dispensing with offices, cubicles and private work spaces. Now employees cannot return to these facilities, and can no longer be on top of each other. But Google is fundamentally a website, and a poor model to follow. Up until the arrival of the Wuhan virus these companies had soured on working from home and were discouraging it. Now we are learning that telecommuting is indeed viable and is propping up half of the economy. 

A tragic sense has long eluded us, compounded with historical amnesia. If this virus had occurred 100 years ago the death rate would be truly catastrophic, as it was in 1918 due to the Spanish flu, when a third of the planet’s population became infected and 50 million died. Even worse, past plagues eliminated a third to one half of the population of Europe. Such unimaginable devastation is beyond our comprehension now, due to progress in managing disease and economic disruption, so as to mitigate disasters. But we may have been living in a historical sweet spot, which could change, as continued progress is not guaranteed. This all brings home how fragile our lives are. They can be disrupted at any moment, so we should always expect the unexpected. We will probably emerge from this stronger due to the resources we have, but we cannot know what the next disaster will bring, and at the very least should be thankful for all that we have.