A vaccine will not entirely end the COVID disease because it will be considerably less than 100% effective and not everyone will take it. Healthcare workers, high-risk individuals, and most seniors will comply. A certain cure is a better goal, a sure thing, but that may be years from now or never (no cures for AIDS and the flu exist either). Eventually, general immunity should limit COVID from spreading as much and like a bad horror movie, one day it will end.
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I came very close to getting the coronavirus. One day in mid- March, I was invited to a social meeting of old colleagues from work. I wondered whether to go, partly because state residents were recommended to stay home. I had nothing else to do so I decided to go. When I arrived, the host wanted to introduce me to a newcomer in my field. I shook hands with him as my cell rang persistently, and thinking it was important, I stepped away to answer it but it was only a sales call. When I returned, the guest was already involved in another conversation. I moved on and hardly spoke to him. Two weeks later, I called the host and she told me that the guest I was supposed to meet realized later that he probably had the virus at the meeting. He was hospitalized and very sick. I shook his hand! I was two feet away. That phone call may have saved my life! I remain healthy and grateful for this.
In the next two years or so, or while people are confined at home, more divorces and separations, breakups of couples and families will occur— due to personal conflicts, lost jobs, and increased domestic violence. Some who are unable to cope are taking more opioids and other narcotics and dying by overdose. Facial coverings, social distancing and the closure of meeting places discourage seeking out possible marriage partners and new friends of both genders, showing affection and physical contact. Thus, we should expect less dating and marriages in the near future, especially those over 40 years.
Naive and careless people, especially the young, will ignore social distancing rules and attend busy parties, social gatherings and restaurants. Faces are deeply personal—your outer self, but masks level the difference between the beautiful (or handsome) with unattractive faces and everyone else. No one can see who is smiling at you or grimacing with them on. I have seen fear and deep worry among customers in stores as if they feel that everyone has the virus and they will die without a mask. However, their chances are actually extremely low: in the United States, 015% have been infected, and .0005% died as of mid-August. (New York Times); including high-risk and elderly. I am not advocating that we take COVID less seriously, but we need to understand the larger picture.
Christians often believe that diseases and calamities bring out good virtues in people, such as sympathy, empathy, and caring. In healthcare workers, perhaps yes, in everyone else, not likely. Studies indicate that people tend to be sympathetic mainly to those who are like themselves (same religion, ethnicity, or race) and geographically. We are dismayed when Americans die, especially in the same state or city. Did you care what happened in Wuhan, China? I believe that everyone, basically, pursues and is interested in their own self-interests. With the exception of medical or health professionals at work, but in their private lives, who knows? For our stoical peace of mind, indifference prevails, and admit it, most of us are rather apathetic toward people we don’t know or care to know. True empathy is much rarer than we think. The big pharma companies are not racing to discover a cure or vaccine out of human kindness. A huge stock-raising profit is at stake. Politicians desire to enhance their reputations and fear lawsuits. Top medical scientists seem heroic, yet their recommendations are founded on science, not compassion or pure altruism.
Sadly, the routine things we took for granted, small pleasures, and ordinary freedoms are gradually vanishing, gone with the wind. Will these liberties become merely nostalgic? Public drinking fountains are as extinct as pay telephones. Vacant movie theaters will sell popcorn but no tickets. Social distancing rules, nationwide, will greatly eliminate crowds and large organized functions, possibly for years. The internet will occupy significantly more of our leisure time. Virtual reality, which already substitutes for real life, will become the future commonality. The image replaces the real, indefinitely, and everyone is expected to accept this imitation of life.
I taught college classes, online also, for over 20 years as a professor, and am knowledgeable about the management agendas and issues in student learning. Administrators often fail to have the best ideas for making future academic plans.
Online and hybrid learning is the future, for several years, and students will not look forward to this replacement of real classes. Online (zoom) tutoring and seminars will be common. The problems in higher education will worsen, as students settle for hybrid or internet classes, and lose the social and intellectual benefits of campus life. Multitudes of students may never see the inside of a classroom and will miss the interaction—or never know what they missed. In some colleges their achievements might be harder, though unbeknownst to them, and because online degrees and some courses have a lower reputation, (perhaps less merit) than traditional ones. High drop-out rates from distance learning is a well-known trend. Also, it is easier to be dishonest by plagiarizing or getting someone else to do the work. This may likely increase and become more widespread, and the precautions and safeguards might not always work.
Happily, students who are home-bound, without transportation, or with busy parenting or work schedules, will be glad to take these classes who could not do so before. They will enjoy or be satisfied with online courses, such as accounting or physiology, that do not require live discussion. I think that medical students benefit more from regular well-taught classrooms. Unmotivated and weaker students will struggle or fail, but the best students will continue to excel. Beginners with computers such as ESL students will have more difficulties.
Grade inflation, which has been commonplace for decades, might increase and become more widespread. Actual grades will not reflect, necessarily, the quality of work. Administrators and board trustees are uninterested in these details. To them, the major goal of higher education is money, making students happy, higher enrollment and enhancing the college’s reputation or status. In the humanities, social sciences and courses that are deemed “ irrelevant”, grades are important but not learning so much. For non-majors and nursing students, these courses are comparable to a side at dinner. (Eat the steak, not the carrots.) Working adults and nursing students often feel entitled to an A so their employers will pay for the course.
To deans and higher-ups, coursework is not as important as enrollment, higher status and saving money. Class sizes will be expanded without physical space confinements, and thus fewer educators will be necessary and, therefore, out of work. For a while, they will enjoy working from home, but their workload will likely increase with significantly larger and more classes. This situation is nicely suitable for introverted or isolated students and faculty, who can put in as much or as little time as they wish. It is much easier to close the doors and say No One Admitted, rather than work to develop plans and find a better alternative that welcomes everyone.
Future State Paternalism
This is the view that governments have the right and duty to restrict individual liberty by law for the health and well-being of individuals and businesses. The restrictions are justified when the benefits of the laws outweigh and exceed the freedoms that are reduced or eliminated. Examples are the unpopular sugary soda taxes, prescription medicines, illegal drugs, and required motorcycle helmets. It also is promoted for property, life-death issues, and safety.
The pandemic has brought forth strong paternalistic laws that this nation has rarely witnessed. Governors acting alone, without regard to the state constitution, legalize mandates without approval from state legislators. City mayors will close anything they consider “non-essential”, including parks and libraries. Paternalism and individual liberty are a see-saw balance, controversial in social laws and governmental policy-making.
The big idea is that our government knows more than we do about our own well-being, and laws should protect individuals from harming themselves. This implied principle, taken for granted, will be heralded and enforced by governments throughout the world, indefinitely. Protestors will try to fight it to no avail. We must find the wisest compromise between the state and its opponents on this issue. I hate that our everyday choices are so very restricted or eliminated. Although countless lives have been saved so far, the stay at home orders, notably in the safest states and nations, probably do not justify the loss of billions of dollars, jobs, and detrimental psychological effects. Contrary to common beliefs, millions of people worldwide have scarcely been affected by COVID. Personally, I know many individuals over 50 whose entire lifestyle means staying home alone or with a spouse, minimizing time with others, and leaving home only when necessary. This will remain unchanged in the future.
Mass conformity will become strict law in hard-hit states, and greater power for governors and mayors, who eagerly enhance and force their authority over our personal lives. The growing realistic fear is that governmental power will unjustly expand with well-meaning laws that are unnecessary or wrongly advised. For instance, some governors impose two-week quarantines on non-residents traveling to their states, even when these regions have low numbers of COVID cases and little suffering. Two hundred COVID-free visitors will hardly matter.
What if the laws are enacted across the nation and the world?
Entire lifestyles and free choices will be stymied. In the past, and possibly future, governments use public health and safety, patriotism, or security to justify new laws as a disguise for benefitting citizens.
Pardon the pessimism. But, two years ago, if you said a pandemic will end 700,000 lives in the world, everyone would say you were crazy or off the deep end. Studies show that optimists are more likely to be happy but wrong about the future, and pessimists are likely to be unhappy, but more realistic about the future. Optimists will adjust the best and remain so, without letting COVID and the restrictions diminish their cheerful outlook.
Let Us ...
... hope for a great future but keep expectations lower toward a medium point-- certainly not the worst future, or the “ normal” we all took for granted.