COVID-19 (coronavirus) is proving to be the great equalizer. Regardless of income, religion, or nationality, the virus is replicating across the worldwide human population by the rules of biology. We are not above the rules, outside of the ecosystem. We are part and parcel of it all.
Many of us can barely remember what day of the week it is. Absent our rituals, it’s hard to recall that we are still in the time of Lent. “For you were made from dust, and to dust you will return” (Gen. 3:19). COVID-19 is now this worldwide reminder of our universal earthiness. We are all in this together.
For a global people, how one nation faces the challenge now affects the next. And the next. Cuban doctors are flying to Italy to care for the sick. My friends in Bolivia have already altered their greetings, foregoing the customary cheek-kissing. Trade and travel have been upended. Research scientists are furiously coordinating efforts and publishing data as fast as possible. Automobile factories are switching their production lines to produce life-saving respirators and masks for healthcare workers.
A Hoosier lockdown
Yesterday, Governor Holcomb issued an official directive for Hoosiers to stay at home, effective tonight through April 6. Unless we are participating in “essential business and operations” or “essential activities,” we should stay at our residence and keep 6 ft away from others at all times. Any gathering of more than 10 people is prohibited. You can read the FAQs here.
The directive notes that elderly and sick persons – who are at higher risk from COVID-19 – are urged to stay home to the extent possible and only leave to seek necessarily medical care. Now, I know several people dear to me who are in their 60’s who wouldn’t think themselves “elderly,” (heck, a few in their 80’s too). But it bears repeating that the virus is no respecter of semantics, of country, religion, or bank account: now is the time to shelter up and let others keep things running.
It is widely understood that these types of measures are necessary to slow the spread of the virus and prevent our medical system from being overwhelmed.
Does this mean we can we stay connected to the natural world in this time of pandemic? Fortunately, the stay at home order provides a provision for outdoor activities.
It’s a good time to be extra cautious in your outdoor activities, for now is not a time to have a hospital trip. But solitary wildflower walks are definitely still in order. Spring is not taking the year off.
With the decrease in economic activity and vehicle traffic, it occurred to me that this spring, it may be that natural communities around us will see the lowest levels of pollution since before World War II. Light pollution, roadkill, noise pollution, particulates, toxic waste… the onslaught is having a modest reprieve. Grid operators in the Midwest have already noticed a reduction in electricity demand. UPDATE: U.S. traffic is down >30%, along with concomitant pollution.
A time for solidarity
Much is made of the inclination of some, in times of crisis, to loot, pillage, and fight ruthlessly for our own survival. Undeniably, that’s one aspect of human behavior. I’m told that guns and ammo are sold out right now. So be it, if that comforts someone to sit in a quiet home with their boxes of steel, watching Netflix.
But social observers have noted that a far more common impulse in times of crisis is solidarity. There are numerous examples. Rebecca Solnit has studied and written about the impromptu, spontaneous examples of compassion that emerged from Hurricane Katrina.
I’ve been calling my father more in recent weeks. He also has been calling on friends. One of his made a list of people and called each of them, catching up with those who had grown apart. Local grocery stores have created “senior shopping hours” at the beginning of the day, so that the most vulnerable of our community can remain distanced from those of us who may be carrying and spreading the disease unknowingly.
Imagine if care and concern for our neighbor were a regular feature of our everyday, non-COVID society.
But the fog has lifted, and it turns out we are all in the same boat, U.S.S. Earth.
Advocates and activists have been shouting for decades to remind us that all is not well, that we have ongoing crises of poverty and income inequality, a racial wealth gap that has never been reconciled, a crisis of loneliness and alienation, a crisis of dehumanizing institutions, twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss.
As a biological entity, the COVID-19 virus is the most pressing & visible manifestation of our ecological crisis. But it not the only one.
Those of us with enough resources, we could safely ignore those crises (for a time), relocate from a hurricane, hire a flotilla of lobbyists, socially distance ourselves in affluent ghettos, hire someone to separate our hands from the dirty work.
But COVID-19 dissolves these illusions and reminds us that we are the world’s most widespread and social species here on this spaceship Earth. Not just an aggregation of individuals, but a single body with many members (1 Cor. 12).
And so, here we are, together.
Super job! Great insights.
Thanks Connie. Stay safe!
Good thoughts. You mentioned that COVID-19 was biology in action. I ran across this article that seemed to be a great way to learn about what a “virus” is. It describes how the coronavirus is somewhere “between chemistry and biology.” Having said that, I think you’ll find the article very readable (with pictures).
Here’s an encouraging quote from the middle of article: “….And if SARS-CoV-2 is not so different from its older cousin SARS, then the virus is likely not evolving very fast, giving scientists developing vaccines time to catch up.” That could be huge, both for now and for the next variation that pops up.
Thanks for the great article Dennis. I was going to add “… and chemistry, and physics, and…”. Viruses occupy a weird space within (or adjacent to) the tree of life.
Have you read David Quammen’s “The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life”? It’s a good one.
A valuable reality check!
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