Remember back in early to mid-March when the reality of COVID-19 was sinking in? Before that point, we knew it was an issue of concern, but we didn’t think it was much to stress over. However, we slowly began to realize that the virus was spreading in the community in North America. We heard horror stories from hospitals in Italy, where health care staff were overwhelmed. We began to see the same thing happening in New York City. All of a sudden, it changed, and our lives were altered dramatically.
We immediately went into lockdown. We didn’t leave the house unless absolutely necessary. March Break vacations were cancelled. Restaurants and stores were shut down. Schools were closed. We started working from home. We carefully wiped down our groceries and washed our hands obsessively.
I listened to a podcast recently where one of the speakers likened it to what happens when someone drops a glass on the floor of a crowded house party. I really like that analogy. The glass shatters everywhere, all among everyone’s feet on the floor. The first instinct in these situations is for someone to shout, “Nobody move!” We say this because everyone knows that the shards of glass can go everywhere in these situations, in places you would least predict; places so far away that you are dumbfounded at how they got there. It’s also amazing how so many tiny pieces of glass are produced from such a smash, some so small you can barely even see them. But those small ones can often prove to be the most damaging as they can become embedded in the bottom of your feet and be almost impossible to get out later. With everyone standing still, someone then gets a dustbin and a brush and tries like the dickens to clean up all the pieces of glass, looking in all possible places they think they may be hiding. Then, people slowly and carefully start moving around again, realizing that surprises can still happen, and they may end up standing on a piece of glass. So, we take our time. Eventually, people start moving around normally with more confidence. But we all know what can happen: a few hours, days or even weeks later, another small piece of glass is discovered in the strangest of places. We can never be truly confident that we are out of the woods for quite some time. However, at the same time, we cannot be paralyzed forever. Life and the party must go on.
We are coming out of that initial phase right now. We are much more aware of what is happening. We have a better grasp of where the virus is in the community and how it spreads. We know how to prevent ourselves from being exposed, with face masks and hand washing now a part of everyday life. Staying six feet away from others is common practice whenever we walk down a sidewalk or take a trip to the grocery store.
The challenge right now is deciding how confident we feel in resuming our regular lives. Should we start having friends over who we feel are “safe”? Should we allow our kids to play with the neighborhood kids in small groups? Should we send our kids to day camps this summer? Can we visit our elderly parents? These are some of the questions many of us have.
I think what is required from us is patience. Patience with an imperfect process that must take time and be dictated by science, data and expert opinion. We need to trust our expert decision makers, who are tasked with the impossible job of devising a plan to optimally protect us. The process cannot be rushed because we are in the midst of a complex and new situation. As we all have noticed, experts haven’t always gotten it right. First, they said no face masks, then they reversed their opinion. First, they said not to worry about asymptomatic spread, then they said to be concerned about it. First, they said not to worry about children because they are only rarely adversely affected. Now we are discovering that may not be true. These things happened because we learned more. The virus has affected more and more people, so with that increase in the number of infections comes more and more understanding. We are so early in the process of comprehending every nuance about this new virus. In three months, we have come a long way, but at the end of the day, it is still just three months. Our ability to be confident in making big decisions like allowing all children to go to overnight camp for the summer has to be tempered with the humility of what we actually know to be true right now. We may overcall some things in this process but understand that we may undercall some things and live to regret them dearly. It’s a tough position to be in. When do we walk around freely after a glass has been shattered on the ground? When do we risk getting pierced by a wayward tiny shard of glass? No one has all the answers. Let’s not be paralyzed by fear, but let’s not be overconfident. A tough line to walk, but here we are. Let’s be patient, trust the process and we will overcome this.