Breaking The Good News

Recently I wrote about the choices politicians have had to make in breaking bad news about how their states, and the residents of their states, are going to have to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.  Breaking bad news to people is a tough job — but in some respects breaking good news is arguably even more challenging, at least under our current circumstances.

And, for the first time in a long time, there seem to actually be some glimmers of good news.  Ohio, for example, has carefully managed to avoid “hot spot” or “potential hot spot” status, and yesterday the state’s number of reported new cases was below the curve of projected COVID-19 cases for the eighth day in a row.  In fact, Ohio’s number of new reported cases was less than one third of projections.

There are also some tantalizing signs that the curve flattening and bending is happening elsewhere, too.  In yesterday’s federal coronavirus task force briefing, for example, Dr. Anthony Fauci reported that recent data from New York indicates that the number of hospitalizations, intensive care admissions, and intubations in that hard-hit state have started to level off, and Dr. Deborah Birx reported that social distancing — the countrywide mitigation strategy that has been implemented on the largest scale ever attempted — appears to be working.

But therein lies the good news challenge.  The curve seems to be flattening and potentially bending precisely because the vast majority of American have taken the stay-at-home instructions seriously and have tried, responsibly, to isolate in their households.  But if you give people good news, might they relax in their precautions and let up a bit in their zealous pursuit of social distancing, thereby increasing the risk of a new flare-up and outbreak?  And if you get people’s hopes up, won’t they feel even worse if it turns out that these preliminary signs aren’t the bend in the curve we are hoping for?

21a9dbf8-44ea-4df2-a49b-28802063afc6In this case, I’m in favor of giving people the good news as it comes out, with appropriate caveats.  People have made a lot of sacrifices during this shut-in period.  Some have lost their jobs — for now, at least — and everyone has experienced disruption and more personal isolation than they would want to experience otherwise.  We all need to know that our sacrifices are making a difference.  And, as Andy Dufresne wrote to his friend Red in The Shawshank Redemption, “hope is a good thing . . . maybe the best of things.”  In this case, there’s nothing wrong with a little hope to leaven our collective spirits during difficult times.

I’ve got a lot of respect for the innate sensibilities of the American people.  For every jerk who has ignored social distancing to party on a beach, there are tens of thousands who have acted prudently and without complaint during this period to protect themselves, their families and their communities.  I’m confident that people will continue to act responsibly if they receive some positive news about how their efforts are making a real difference.  In fact, I think there is a good chance that Americans react to such news by redoubling their social distancing efforts, to finally bring this scourge of a virus to its knees and drive a stake through its ugly heart.

“Hunkering,” And Now “Bracing,” Too

We’ve all been hunkered down for a few weeks, and now the authorities are telling us we need to be bracing ourselves for the worst week of COVID-19 data yet.  According to the models, at least, we’re apparently somewhere near the top of the curve on that chart we keep seeing, like the people on a roller coaster who are a few clicks of the chain drive from the top of the first hill, scared about the view from the very top but eager for the exhilarating rush down the other side.

hqdefaultI’m not sure what, if anything, we can do to “brace” ourselves for more coronavirus news.  What does it mean to brace yourself for news of tens of thousands more people who have tested positive and are “confirmed cases,” thousands more who have been hospitalized, and thousands more who have died?  The numbers are so big and so out of context it’s hard to even conceive of them, much less put them into a framework where you can truly prepare yourself mentally to hear more of them.  “Bracing” yourself under these circumstances, for this kind of gush of large-number news, isn’t like readying yourself for the inevitable death of a loved one who has been on a long slide.  Instead, it’s like the old footage of the carnival performer who gets shot in the stomach with a cannonball.  He clenches one fist, spreads his arms wide, tightens his torso muscles, and dons what look like welding goggles, then accepts the inevitable punishing jolt to the system that he knows is coming and is going to hurt.

So, we’ve been “hunkered,” and now we’ll “brace,” too — to the extent we can, at least.  And it seems like “hunkering” is actually a component of “bracing.”  Part of preparing yourself for bad news is thinking about what you can do to deal with it and, hopefully, help the situation in some way.  We might not be able to personally aid the doctors and nurses and health care workers in Manhattan and New Orleans and other hot spots that are dealing with this pandemic, but we can do our part by acting responsibly, staying inside and maintaining social distance when we go outside for exercise, and not adding to the caseload.  That’s how Kish and I are going to “brace,” anyway.

And, because another key part of “bracing” is preparing yourself to move ahead after the bad news comes, we’re also going to look forward to the ride down the slope on the other side of that coronavirus chart.

Casting A Long Shadow

One thing about the coronavirus:  you can’t really get away from it.  At least not for long.  You think about it as soon as you wake up and automatically consider what you’ve got going that day.  You feel it when you sit at your home office and work remotely.  You see news stories about it dominating every news show and website, and you notice it, again, in the absence of the baseball games and basketball games and hockey games that you would normally be following and the fact that ESPN is showing footage of decades-old sports event.  You see its fine hand, again, in the absence of any social events to look forward to on your calendar.

And even on something simple like a morning walk on a fine, bright spring day — and thank God for us all that we are still allowed to take those, incidentally! — the specter of the coronavirus looms over everything, like the shadow of a giant beast that has crept up from behind and is getting ready to lay waste to a group of stupid, oblivious teenagers in a bad scary movie.  I find that I am acutely aware of the spatial orientation of every visible car, pedestrian, jogger, and cyclist, and am constantly calculating and recalculating the clearance vectors and paths around trees and cars so that I can safely pass everyone else who’s out.  I find that I get a bit anxious and irritated when somebody gets too close and, even inadvertently, invades my now-extended zone of personal space, although I haven’t called out anyone for that, yet.  That’s a big and somewhat unsettling change for me, and I’m hoping it’s not permanent.

And there are things that I used to do that I wouldn’t do now if you held a gun to my head — like petting a friend’s dog, stopping to chat with a cluster of people gathered on the sidewalk, texting while I’m walking and losing immediate cognizance of where everyone else is during those moments of distraction, or picking up a piece of blowing trash to keep our neighborhood looking neat and clean.  Now I not only won’t pick up random debris, I probably wouldn’t pick up a $50 bill — at least, not without thinking pretty long and hard about it.

It’s bad enough that COVID-19 had wrecked school years, and college visits, and spring breaks, and long-planned weddings, and has prevented people from gathering for funerals or concerts.  The big issue will be whether the coronavirus will continue to cast its long shadow after the curve has been flattened and the case counts stop dominating the daily news.  How much of the changes in our daily lives will become a permanent feature, and how much will vanish like the wisps of that rapidly receding nightmare? 

The Boys And Girls In The Bubbles

Ohio has been in shutdown mode for some time now – hey, can somebody remind me how long it’s been, exactly? — and I feel like we’ve adjusted pretty well.  Human beings are good at that; genetically, we’re hard-wired to assess new situations, figure them out, and come up with new strategies and approaches.  In only a few days, changed routines have been established, new daily patterns have become the norm, and what was once unusual has been accepted and incorporated into our lives with a kind of resigned, collective shrug.

aidan2bin2ba2bbubbleFaceTime and Zoom and Microsoft Teams and countless other video applications have gotten a workout.  What used to be simple, voice-only calls have morphed into video calls as a matter of course, not because video makes the calls more efficient, but because it’s incredibly nice to see other human faces from time to time, to get a smile or a laugh and hope that you’ve lifted someone’s day as they’ve lifted yours.  Thanks to the miracles of modern technology, we’ve had virtual coffees and virtual beers after work and virtual cocktail parties with friends and family and colleagues to keep that human touch and to know that everyone looks okay and seems to be hanging in there.   Seeing faces turns out to be pretty darned reassuring and uplifting, when you think about it.

When we go outside for walks, we maintain that assured clear distance of six feet to the extent we can, veering into the street or onto the grass at Schiller Park to respect that buffer zone.  Social distancing is a physical concept, though, and it doesn’t mean we can’t maintain non-physical social contact with the people we see, through a smile and nod and a cheerful greeting and a brief chat as we stand appropriately apart.  People seem to be more consciously outgoing, as they steer clear of each other.  Maybe it’s just the fact that everybody is at home all day long where they used to be at their offices for most of the day, but it sure seems like there are lot of people out on the street at any given time.  Perhaps that’s because it’s another way to get that human contact — even if it’s remote contact.  That’s another element of this new paradigm that seems to have been adopted and incorporated without too much trouble.

During this shutdown period, we’re all living a kind of virtual life, but of course it’s our real life.  We’re all like the boy in the bubble, living in our little zones.  It’s a fascinating social experiment, and I hope people will remember this instinctive need for contact with fellow humans when this isolation process ends, as it will.  I, for one, will never take walking into a friendly restaurant or bar for granted again.

All Together Now

As I’ve taken walks around Schiller Park over the last few days, I’ve noticed that people are interested in publicly expressing their collective community spirit.  The above sign appeared in the window of the Hausfrau Haven, and I’ve seen similar messages chalked onto sidewalks — like “#RallyColumbus.”  It’s all part of an effort by the common folk to show some mutual support, and let their fellow citizens know that we’re all in this together, and that together we will get through our coronavirus trial.

I’m confined to the German Village area, of course, so I can’t say for sure, but I suspect that the signs and sidewalk messages I’ve seen here are just the very small tip of a much larger iceberg that can be found across the country.  Americans have a way of coming together during difficult times, helping each other out, and working to lift each others’ spirits.  Our political representatives might fight like the gingham dog and the calico cat, but the people stand together during the tough times — and messages that express that sentiment in a tangible way, for all to see, really help.  And, of course, there’s a lot more that we can’t see publicly that also reflects a fighting, mutually supportive spirit, like texts among groups of friends and co-workers and e-mail chains and virtual get-togethers and Facebook memes.

The attitude of toughness and resiliency makes me think of one of my favorite Beatles’ songs and video snippets, which appeared at the end of the Yellow Submarine film — All Together Now.  Let’s hope that we can maintain that ‘tude, and it will carry us through. 

Letting Your Resiliency Roar

If I’ve learned one thing in life, it’s that most people are pretty resilient and adaptable.  Bad things happen to us all, for sure, but generally people cheerfully bounce back — and, more importantly, they consciously find a way to bounce back.

1940s-two-women-office-workers-standing-by-office-water-news-photo-1580932806I thought about this yesterday when the B.A. Jersey Girl started a text message chain for those of us who are working together on a particular matter.  With the B.A.J.G. kicking things off, we all shared pictures of our home office set-ups to be used during this work from home period.  There was a wide variance in the home office work spaces shown in the photos, with some people rigging up impressively elaborate arrangements with multiple monitors and printers.  (My kitchen counter arrangement is decidedly at the spartan end of the spectrum, I might add.)  And we got a peek at some dogs and cats that were intrigued that their human friends were home at times that they usually weren’t, and apparently decided to just check things out.  It was funny and fun at the same time.

There’s a social element to work, whether it’s somebody ducking their head into your office to chat about the latest news or family developments, casual greetings in hallways. or friendly banter in the elevator or around the coffee station.  When you work from home, obviously, you’re not getting those in-person encounters — but people are resilient and will find a way to make up for that.  And with technology offering various alternatives, there are work arounds for just about everything.

My guess is that cell phone providers are seeing a real surge in text messaging, face timing, and phone calling to establish that element of human interaction during this period of social distancing.  For office colleagues, it’s a way to make up for lost time around the proverbial water cooler.

The Signmaker Sends A Message

After taking a hiatus of sorts, the Third Street Secret Signmaker is back with another positive message — a positive message that I am sure everyone particularly appreciates during this weird period. I don’t know whether the message is specific to dealing with coronavirus issues, or is intended to have a more general thrust, but I’m going to read it as directed at COVID-19. And I agree with it, too.

We are enough to deal with this issue — and I think we’re starting to see that. Kish went to the grocery store today and there was no chaos or panic buying. Indeed, there was even toilet paper and milk in stock. People were polite, friendly, and helpful to each other.

I think people are starting to calm down and pull together, and when that happens there is nothing we can’t do.

It’s news when people engage in panic-buying, and not news when the panic stops and sanity returns. The Secret Signmaker might suggest that we take a deep breath, trust our instincts, and realize we can handle this. We really are enough, if we just act like it.