What Have We Learned From COVID-19?


The prophetess Cassandra of Troy, a mythological Greek character, could see the future.  But even though she spoke the truth, her warnings about forthcoming catastrophic events went largely unheeded.  There is a real Cassandra among us, and her name is Laurie Garrett.  I encourage you to watch her 2009 TED talk, and I believe you’ll agree that it is remarkably prescient.  While Bill Gates’ TED talk made the rounds as anticipating our unpreparedness for what we’re going through now, that was six years after Laurie gave her presentation.

The columnist Frank Bruni profiled Ms. Garrett as a modern day Cassandra.  But actually before there was Laurie Garrett, there was Larry Brilliant.  A brilliant epidemiologist, Larry was awarded the TED prize for his 2006 presentation on the likelihood of a future pandemic such as we are facing now.  A few weeks ago, Dr. Brilliant did an interview in which he addressed issues related to herd immunity, antibodies, testing, and why smoothing the curve basically pushes out but doesn’t eliminate the number of people who will be infected.   Effective treatment still awaits a vaccine, or an anti-viral with vaccine-like properties.

A recent article in Vanity Fair hailed both Larry and Laurie as Cassandras of Coronavirus.  Larry Brilliant’s crystal ball has lightened up through the years while Laurie Garrett’s, as Frank Bruni notes, has progressively become darker.  Her event horizon for a vaccine against COVID-19 is not the oft-quoted Faucian 12-18 months, but 36 months as a best-case scenario.

“I’m quite certain that this is going to go in waves,” she added. “It won’t be a tsunami that comes across America all at once and then retreats all at once. It will be micro-waves that shoot up in Des Moines and then in New Orleans and then in Houston and so on, and it’s going to affect how people think about all kinds of things.”

They’ll re-evaluate the importance of travel. They’ll reassess their use of mass transit. They’ll revisit the need for face-to-face business meetings. They’ll reappraise having their kids go to college out of state.

So, I asked, is “back to normal,” a phrase that so many people cling to, a fantasy?

“This is history right in front of us,” Garrett said. “Did we go ‘back to normal’ after 9/11? No. We created a whole new normal. We securitized the United States. We turned into an antiterror state. And it affected everything. We couldn’t go into a building without showing ID and walking through a metal detector, and couldn’t get on airplanes the same way ever again. That’s what’s going to happen with this.”

Not the metal detectors, but a seismic shift in what we expect, in what we endure, in how we adapt

If America enters the next wave of coronavirus infections “with the wealthy having gotten somehow wealthier off this pandemic by hedging, by shorting, by doing all the nasty things that they do, and we come out of our rabbit holes and realize, ‘Oh, my God, it’s not just that everyone I love is unemployed or underemployed and can’t make their maintenance or their mortgage payments or their rent payments, but now all of a sudden those jerks that were flying around in private helicopters are now flying on private personal jets and they own an island that they go to and they don’t care whether or not our streets are safe,’ then I think we could have massive political disruption.”

“Just as we come out of our holes and see what 25 percent unemployment looks like,” she said, “we may also see what collective rage looks like.”


End the Virus

There is good basis for Laurie Garrett’s prediction about rage.  It is percolating to the surface in protests in Nevada, Texas, Michigan, and soon coming to your neighborhood if it hasn’t already.  Small business persons are seething that the large businesses figured out how to game the system.  Many large banks distributed the stimulus money earmarked for small businesses to corporations first, because they were their “better accounts”.  Many in middle America have been forced to file for unemployment because they are neither doctors or nurses, and don’t have an “essential” job like working the liquor store or the Dunkin’ Donuts drive-thru.

Economy Protest

Therein lies another paradox.  As the President continued to portray optimism during his  frequent briefings, most likely to keep the psyche of the stock market from irreversibly tanking, it became less logical to his voter base to continue hunkering down.  Renters and debtors sought relief, but few considered the plight of their landlords and creditors, themselves out of work, who faced uncertainty about income deferred or defaulted.  Now was the economy the only thing to go into a tailspin.  While some desperately needed to work, others needed to desperately get out of a dysfunctional household, and yet others wanted to get out simply for a haircut.  Tempers flared as the virus dared us to figure out how to flatten our learning curve while flattening the transmission curve.

haircut sign

I’m afraid that we have learned from COVID-19 thus far isn’t much different than what Michael Weinberg, my pony-tailed history teacher taught me in 1970.  History is a contraction that represents “His-Story”, because everyone has their version of what is transpiring before their eyes, and factors that are conspiring out of view.  There are no shortages of Cassandras.  There is only the conundrum of which Cassandra anticipates the story that will best match reality.


About Leonard J. Press, O.D., FAAO, FCOVD

Developmental Optometry is my passion as well as occupation. Blogging allows me to share thoughts in a unique visual style.
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2 Responses to What Have We Learned From COVID-19?

  1. doctuhdon says:

    Outstanding post !!! We need a Pollyanna, not a Cassandra! Optimism not fatalism 😊

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