Eli Witek

Eli Witek

After talking with my family, I realized that we are understanding the COVID-19 pandemic through the lens of our previous traumatic experiences.

It seems a bit silly to call a hurricane a trauma, but on the other hand, my brother and sister, and their families, were all living in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina completely changed their lives.

And even when it doesn’t hit us — like the recent Hurricane Dorian experience — people experience heightened anxiety and fear, and hurricane fatigue.

This is not a hurricane. But the run on traditional hurricane fare (toilet paper, stocking up water, etc) shows how we are viewing this global pandemic in ways we understand: through the lens of previous community-wide emergencies.

My siblings now live in California, and are in one of the counties that are subject to lock-down. They still have face masks, because of the fires that spread across the state last summer.

I’m writing this from home because I have a sore throat, and as a millennial (I truly hate that term but there you go), I am in the group that is most likely to experience mild symptoms, or no symptoms at all, and inadvertently infect vulnerable populations.

This is not a hurricane. I previously wrote about how annoying it was that people were frustrated at Dorian for disrupting their lives for no real reason — well, we didn’t know how it would hit, and we always have to be prepared.

This is an invisible emergency. Our power won’t be cut, our water will still run. If we prepare now — if we follow CDC guidelines and avoid human interaction — the coronavirus will, like a hurricane that misses us, seem like not a big deal. We’ll probably be mad at it.

If we don’t, however…

The important idea here is exponential growth. Think of the classic rabbit breeding example: If you start with two rabbits and double that number every week, after 10 weeks it becomes 10,000 rabbits. 10 weeks after that, 1 million rabbits. This is the idea of uncontrolled spread.

In history, we even have examples of how pandemics operate with different governmental responses: St. Louis (where they shut down bars and theatres) versus Philadelphia (where they did not) during the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918, or the more recent example of Singapore and Italy.

We’re obviously falling behind in testing. Throughout the entire state of Florida, a mere 2,294 people have been tested. Throughout the entire country, per a million people, the U.S. lags behind countries like Romania and Croatia.

We also have much more stringent individual privacy laws, which means we don’t know who has been infected, and if we may have come in contact with them.

The best-case scenario is that containment works, and we only have a small amount of people infected. Then, of course, the whole thing seems overblown. I can already see that some people believe the entire thing is a hoax.

This is a mistake.

Didn’t everyone see the movie Contagion? If you haven’t, don’t watch it now, since it won’t exactly be relaxing. The point is, the idea of a global pandemic emerging from seemingly nowhere and spreading rapidly is something that experts have anticipated and warned about.

This may not be a hurricane, but we’re responding the same way: we swing wildly between overreaction and underreaction. Soon, if not already, we will experience coronavirus fatigue.

Unlike a hurricane, getting together as a community and with loved ones is not a viable strategy. In other words, we’ve lost some of our coping mechanisms.

But there are ways to be together — in this time where people have suddenly lost their livelihoods without warning, it is all-important to think and shop locally.

Many shops are open for take out orders or delivery — not just restaurants, but furniture stores, farmers markets, and the like. Buy gift cards to use in the future.

The Beacon is not going to have an easy time either. But even though we’re presented with a huge challenge in loss of revenue, our overall mission is more important than ever: empowering the community through information.

We’re still here for each other, even if I can’t shake your hand.