Coronavirus – Reasons for Optimism Today

A lot happened yesterday. Some of it I predicted in my post the day prior. Frankly, I did not expect it all to happen so quickly. We live in a world where milliseconds mean millions in the markets and any piece of information can be made accessible to anyone with internet access by anyone with internet access anywhere in the world with the press of a button. Stated more simply, money and information can move instantaneously, but other things can take time. The coronavirus, while spreading rapidly relative to the flu or other infectious diseases, of course cannot move as fast as information can today. That is to say, the coronavirus cannot go from one person to millions of people in a single moment, like a CNN headline or a Trump tweet.

Manufacturing masks and testing patients takes time too. Building new hospitals takes longer. Discovering a vaccine for this novel coronavirus will take significantly longer than that. But the actions that were taken yesterday by companies, schools, and other organizations around the country seemed swift, strong, and responsible. Many of them were immediate, triggered by an email sent with the press of a button, changing the daily lives of thousands of employees or students in a single moment. One could argue that some could have acted earlier, but they also could have easily acted much later or not at all. Since we really do not know how exactly this all is going to play out, it will be impossible to have known when exactly, if ever, would have been the right time to act until the consequences of acting or not acting will have already been faced, and it will have been far too late, assuming it becomes evident at that point that some action should have been taken. That is why the fact that many organizations acted at all yesterday I think is applaudable, and it is those actions that give me reasons for optimism today.

Sadly, I know global infections and deaths will continue to get worse. I do not know how much worse, but I know that the actions of many decision-makers yesterday have helped to make it so that it will be less worse than it otherwise would have been. That does not suggest anything about the absolute damage, but only that the relative damage will be less, and it is difficult to argue that fact. Most of these organizations will lose dollars in exchange for saving lives. They may not save an employee’s life, or a student’s, or a player’s, but they will almost certainly save people who are degrees of separation away from those people they have made less likely to acquire and spread the infection by disallowing them from congregating together as usual for the indefinite near-term.

Paradoxically, it is these same preventative actions which have made it much harder to realize those reasons for optimism today. The more responsible we are as people and the more cautious we behave, the more panic it brings via the unignorable realness of the actions themselves and the very news of those actions being taken. For many people, for example, the coronavirus was something they thought little about and treated very nonchalantly until their employer told them that their office would be closed for the next few weeks at least and that they would need to effectively figure out how to work from home until further notice. Many others might have thought this was no big deal until they saw their savings in investments go way down this week, day after day after day.

As people’s daily lives are changed not just by this pandemic but by the measures taken to mitigate it, and by the news cycle and financial market effects that ripple off from them, we may find a counter to a natural inclination to panic with the optimism that all of these things we are doing will make a tragic outcome at least a little less tragic than it otherwise would have been.

In some ways, this is an early demonstration of the increasingly connected world and the potential that we have to make it a better one. Individuals today by means of social media, blogs, podcasts and alike have more power to spread knowledge, information, and influence than at any other time in the history of the world. That means we all have the power with our voices to help mitigate foreseeable tragedies like the one that the world is battling today, and with our minds to pay attention to those voices, to find the ones we trust, to be skeptical but reasonable, and to choose what we come to believe. As goes the famous quote, “With great power, comes great responsibility.”

China and South Korea (assuming the numbers of new cases reported are reasonably accurate) have shown that we as people can move faster than the coronavirus. We can beat it, but that does not mean we will. Actions like those taken yesterday will only help our chances, and the reality is that there is no black and white when it comes to winning and losing in this matter. Like in war, we will both win in eventually gaining the upper hand, but lose in the casualties and damage suffered in the heat of battle. It is our responsibility to do that which with reasonable cost and effort we can do to limit that number of casualties and to limit the amount of damage. The way I see it, people all over the country took steps in a right and responsible direction yesterday. Those are the reasons for optimism today.