Written on May 15, 2020. 2 months after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in Ontario, Canada. This is a journal of my thoughts and feelings.
Well, we are about 2 months into this crisis with Coronavirus and of being on lockdown ( i.e. quarantine, social distancing and isolation). We’ve passed our peak where we live and are starting to see a slow decline in the number of cases. And of course, because of this slight decline there has been a lot of discussions around reopening, reassessing where we are with predictions, and getting back to normal.
I can feel the buzz beginning; people are itching to get out of their homes. Many seem willing to just be hopeful and will-fully ignorant to the danger still out in the world.
At the same time I hear warnings from scientists about second or third waves and how much longer the pandemic will really continue. There is still no vaccine and likely won’t be for another year, maybe even longer. We don’t have herd immunity and are far from it. So, by all accounts the Coronavirus won’t be going away any time soon and we have to prepare as a society for the long haul and shift our expectations as individuals.
In the media and even in the conversations I have with others, there seems to be this tug of war between these are unprecedented times, using words like pandemic & crisis, and getting back to normal and reopening. Everyone seems to be divided between fearing for their health and safety, recognizing the extremity of the situation, and deeply hoping the return to life before is eminent.
There has also been a lot of talk about the economy and where our priorities lie as a culture. Which are we going to put first, people and their health and safety, or markets, money, and keeping business in business? If we put the economy first, at what cost? I’m sure it would be great for businesses to make money, and for some small businesses it might mean staying afloat. But it is wrong to prioritize money over people’s health and well-being. This dynamic further supports the exploitation of workers who are either deemed as essential or stuck in some sick game of superiority where the rich feel even more justified in exploiting them because “they need the money right now”.
What about the people who are out of work and relying on government programs (that aren’t even sufficient to match the cost of living)? I hear accusations that they are, “just taking handouts”. There are many conversations about a living wage, especially for essential workers who don’t even make enough to put food on the table or pay their rent. I hear stories about the risks, fear, and isolation experienced by vulnerable populations, like seniors, those with health conditions, pregnant women, and caretakers. What will they do when things re-open?
There are people protesting the lock-down in the United States, and even here in Canada. People literally demanding they be allowed out for haircuts. A colleague of mine said the other day “people are confusing their wants and their needs”. You don’t need a haircut, you want one. This definitely shows how we come from a culture of privilege where our wants have been allowed to become confused with needs.
I have to ask, why is there this rush to return to normal? Are we working for the sake of working? Is that all that gives our lives purpose and meaning?
I think this crisis has challenged the rules and structure of our society and many are changing their ideas of what life is about. We are coming to a turning point in our culture that has been brewing for a long time. We are forced to ask ourselves and our governments, hard questions about the kind of country we want to live in, the pace that life needs to go at, and why we are doing the things we are doing. Because we simply can’t do it all right now (or shouldn’t).
I’m very concerned about reopening at this point. I am certain that it will result in a new surge in cases and probably a second wave before we have even recovered fully from the first. I do think we need to open some things carefully for the sake of people’s mental health and wellness. But we are confusing the things that we really need and that do support our mental health, like carefully visiting a parent, spending time outside, and going to medical appointments, and our wants (shopping, eating out, going to the gym, hair cuts, going to the spa, movie theaters etc.).
I hope we do not blindly rush towards normal just because of our urges for consumerism, or out of some collective societal shame about productivity and perpetual growth. Let’s be honest, it is tempting, and easier to bury our heads in the sand about the dangers. It would feel great to get my hair done or go shopping with a friend. It would be nice to be back in my functional office, to see my coworkers, and my community members. But it is not worth risking my health, and more importantly other people lives and health for.
We have some huge lessons that can be learned from this crisis, my only hope is that we actually learn them.
Hannah B. L.