First Coronavirus Wall

Turn around. Ely, Iowa.

As autumn begins we hit the six-month wall of the coronavirus pandemic. We are all getting tired of the masks, restricted activities, and video meetings.

We want our lives to return to a sense of normal with more reasonable human interaction, the kind to which we are accustomed.

The Aug. 10 derecho gave Iowans something to do at home. Now that it’s mostly cleaned up we are left with ourselves and more mask-wearing, restricted activities, and video meetings.

If we have to go to the doctor or dentist we understand there are specific protocols to maintain social distancing inside the clinic. They are labor and time-intensive. The clinicians are not used to them either. At least we determined a way to get routine medical checkups.

Time was we could escape from our daily lives. People took cruises, traveled to faraway places as tourists, or just went to the beach. Now there is nowhere to go because the pandemic is global. Cruise lines, those floating cesspools of infectious diseases, haven’t determined how to restart operations in the pandemic. Air travel is not much better.

We learned new ways of securing provisions, living at home, meeting with friends, working, and attending school. Some found new ways to entertain and enjoy ourselves. We prepare more of our own meals and exercise more. We make more telephone calls and participate in a variety of activities made possible by the internet. All the same it doesn’t seem normal. For the time being there is the wall.

Last Saturday NBC News reported the U.S. COVID-19 death toll surpassed 200,000 individuals. In March, Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House Task Force on the coronavirus, said in a best case scenario, with Americans doing exactly what was needed to mitigate the effects of the virus, the death toll would be contained to between 100,000 and 200,00 deaths. At the time there had been only 3,000 COVID-19 related deaths. 21st Century Americans are not a disciplined lot nor good at doing what is needed. We are also not the best listeners. Whatever happened to us? The pandemic is expected to get worse.

“As we approach the fall and winter months, it is important that we get the baseline level of daily infections much lower than they are right now,” Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told James Hamblin of The Atlantic. For the past few weeks, the country has been averaging about 40,000 new infections a day. Fauci said, “we must, over the next few weeks, get that baseline of infections down to 10,000 per day, or even much less if we want to maintain control of this outbreak.”

Up against the wall, many are not paying attention to public health officials. We want to get on with our lives. The coronavirus does not care.

The first step in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic is to admit it exists. Denial of the reality of the virus only serves the virus. We have to live like we are contagious. We get tired of hearing it yet we must wear a mask and pay attention to our immediate environment, what we contribute to it, and what we take away from it. Maintaining social distancing has been hard. I want to be closer to people when with them, to maintain customary behavior. We can’t do that as much in the pandemic. We also have to pay attention to the amount of time we are with people because duration of exposure is a key factor in COVID-19 spread. It is near impossible to view every person I know and meet as a disease vector.

Experts say the six month wall in a crisis arrives and dissipates like clockwork. We can muster a positive attitude and persist, be kind to those closest to us, and take care of our obligations. Before we know it we’ll be on the other side. That’s a start, and for many it may be enough. We have a long way to go in the coronavirus pandemic, maybe another year or more. To sustain ourselves we must let the chips fall and be prepared to climb when we discover a chink in the wall. It is there, although at times difficult to see.

The human condition is optimistic. We believe this pandemic will end. We know enough to see there will be another pandemic after this one. At the same time we should realize that the wall we encountered six months in isn’t the end, even as the coronavirus is permanently with us. We are able to parse the difference and should.

The predictable wall gives us a new kind of normalcy. It’s a bit weird yet comforting at the same time. In a couple of weeks we hope to be on the other side.