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HEALTH/SCI/TECH

Navigating the New Normal

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Countries around the world are starting to ease restrictions in an attempt to return to some degree of normalcy.

Countries around the world are starting to ease restrictions in an attempt to return to normalcy, some moving slowly and cautiously, others hurtling forwards at breakneck speed against the warnings of infectious disease experts. Spain and the United States find themselves in similar situations, as both countries are fairly unique in that each state in the US and each autonomous region in Spain have a fair degree of control over what the specific restrictions remain in place in the areas under their jurisdictions and the situation varies drastically across these two countries.

Galicia and regions such as Murcia and País Vasco have already begun inching towards a return to days when restaurants and bars are full of people eating and late-night revelers can enjoy themselves inside of a packed night club. However, many of the most densely populated areas of the country, such as the regions where Madrid and Barcelona are located, are still almost completely locked down.

Some states in the US have almost completely reopened, whereas others, such as New York and Michigan, are still close to being entirely locked down. In some states, the path to reopening stores and business has proven to be incredibly complicated, with big cities still experiencing major health catastrophes as a result of the virus’s spread but rural, conservative areas without many cases strongly calling for stores and restaurants to open immediately.

Citizen Truth talked to American and Spanish citizens and healthcare workers navigating their own return to normalcy in order to see what people think about ending or loosening the shutdown restrictions and what the future might hold.

Dr. J. Garcia, Santiago de Compostela, Spain

Dr. J. Garcia works at the Universidad de Santiago de Compostela and hospital realizes that the economy needs to begin functioning again in order to avoid massive financial problems but cautions against doing so without proceeding carefully.

He told Citizen Truth, “As new infection rates start to decrease, businesses should slowly start to reopen with new hygiene guidelines, prioritizing small local stores. This could stimulate the economy in an orderly way, avoiding massive unemployment rates as well since small companies have less capacity to keep paying their workers while stores aren’t open.”

Garcia is somewhat surprised at the scope and scale of the backlash against the measures being taken to prevent the spread of the virus in the United States, but said “It doesn’t strike me as a coincidence that the most capitalistic country in the world is the first to experience these types of protests. When you have an economy where the state has such little regulations over the market, everything is priced and put into competition, even healthcare services. This means that life is deeply intertwined with money and there is almost an organic reaction to the stop of cash flow. All this economic freedom also means less support from the state, so people are much more dependent in their income for survival.”

It’s important to look at other significant pandemics from past eras to deduce how to most effectively combat new outbreaks. Garcia explains, “Historically most pandemics weren’t overcome by finding a cure, but more so by profound changes in society, whether you’re talking about bubonic plague and sanitation or HIV and sexual education. We have to try to understand not only what caused this outbreak but also what made it spiral out of control in the terrifying way that it did.

Epidemiologists and other scientists have been cautioning governments and the general public about the threat of a worldwide pandemic like this for some time. Garcia is cautiously optimistic that this crisis will encourage people to listen, and told Citizen Truth, “A lot of infectious disease experts have been warning us about this scenario for years, so I hope that now more efforts will be put into prevention and control of infectious diseases.

He also laments the fact that so many people around the world don’t have access to adequate healthcare, a major factor in the spread of infectious diseases. “On a global scale, there’s so much more we could be doing. We cannot continue to ignore the fact that millions of people live in miserable conditions, hygienic nightmares. Ebola wasn’t a big problem in Europe and the United States because it was easily contained using basic sanitation measures, but this crisis is a perfect example of what happens when a virus breaks the barrier between animals and humans and transmits perfectly through air or saliva droplets. Coronavirus is just one of the many dangerous viruses with the potential to do this, and I fear we’re going to experience more infectious disease outbreaks of this nature in the future.”

Gregg, Philadelphia, PA

Gregg works in IT in the Philadelphia area and recently began a new job during the crisis. As a result he’s been thrust into the world of working remotely and has only met most of his co-workers through online meetings and other digital interactions. He knows that people are anxious for everything to open up again and for life to return to normal but told Citizen Truth that “It doesn’t do much good opening the bars and stuff if people don’t feel safe out there. Do you think you’d be willing to go out to eat if you know people who have gone to a restaurant and gotten sick?”

The road back to ordinary life is going to be long and difficult. The events of the past few months are not going to correct themselves overnight. Gregg told Citizen Truth, “I think that when people imagine the end of quarantine they’re thinking of a giant button that someone needs to push that will reset everything back to how it was before, but in reality if we said tomorrow that everything’s reopened and “back to normal,” I don’t think anyone should expect that everything’s going to be the way it was before. In reality a lot of people are going to be sick, people are going to feel uncomfortable going out.”

He also worries that the situation could deteriorate rapidly if things are reopened to quickly, leading to an even worse crisis that before. “What if we open up to early and everything gets worse. Were these two month all for nothing? Everyone’s already suffered a lot, it would be a shame to throw all the progress we’ve made away.

Richard, Columbus, Ohio

Richard works as a nurse at a hospital in Central Ohio and is concerned about the spread of the virus but also thinks it’s necessary to begin reopening things for both economic and medical reasons.

He told Citizen Truth, “You’ve got to let people go out and do what they’re going to do because the whole idea behind flattening the curve is prolonging the time period of people getting infected because everyone’s going to get this because it’s so contagious. You just want to delay the peak and spread it out so hospitals aren’t overwhelmed. They say that in Ohio we’ve done really well. They turned the convention center into a makeshift hospital in case thins get too bad. All three of Columbus’ biggest healthcare systems have a system worked out to send employees there if they have to. We’ll see if it gets to that point and hopefully it doesn’t.”

Many people are counting on scientists discovering a vaccine soon, but Richard is concerned that the first vaccine will not be subjected to proper testing and analysis. “Even when they come out with a vaccine, I’m certainly not going to receive the first one because that’s going to be the one they rushed to make and I’m not going to let anyone inject me with something that hasn’t been tested for at least five years.”

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Nonetheless, he is still concerned about the suggestions coning from the White House and said that “I feel more comfortable putting my blind faith in medical professionals than politicians that are making reckless decisions that could endanger people’s lives.”

In states such as Pennsylvania, rural counties have already begun to open up but big cities like Philadelphia with high numbers of cases remain lockdown. However, Richard cautions that “people in rural areas have to be even more careful because due to shortages of supplies and medical devices they’re the most vulnerable to outbreaks.”

He also recommends wearing a mask but doesn’t think that it should be mandatory. “I think wearing a mask should be left up to the individual’s discretion. If you’re really worried don’t go out during the day or get up earlier and get everything you need to do finished before other people are out.”

When asked if the COVID-19 crisis had exposed any faults in America’s healthcare system Richard responded, “The thing that’s been exposed is that minority groups don’t have access to adequate healthcare in the United States. But I don’t think that anything’s going to change because this has been obvious for some time and the people with all the money who make the decisions want to keep it that way.”

Richard also is somewhat confused about why some businesses have been allowed to reopen but others have not. He told Citizen Truth, “The state of Ohio is allowing business to reopen but not daycares which seems kind of contradictory to me. How are you going to make people go back to work but not provide their children school or daycare?”

Chuck, Orlando, FL

Chuck is a structural engineer and works at a construction firm in central Florida.

The lockdown is finally starting to have negative repercussions for his firm. “Not a lot of people have been starting new construction projects so it’s finally starting to have an impact on us. There isn’t enough stuff for people to do so they’re finally starting to trim the fat. Everyone’s kept their jobs until this week, but they just laid off three people.”

As businesses finally begin to reopen, many employees are concerned about their safety and the ever-looming threat of another surge in cases. Chuck said that in his office “I guess people are going to start going back in soon but I’m kind of apprehensive about that. I don’t want to be there when this second wave hits.”

Even though many other Floridians are taking advantage of their newfound freedom and flocking to bars and restaurants in droves, Chuck says “My girlfriend and I are trying to take things slow, not go to bars, maintain our distance and stuff. Y it only takes a few bad eggs to ruin it for everybody.”

As the initial Coronavirus pandemic and crisis slowly comes to an end for the majority of the world, now comes the dautning task of reacclimating to normal life and social interactions as well as fixing the economic turmoil caused by the lockdown and other government measures. This process is going to be different in every country and city, and each individual is going to experience this period in a different way.

The COVID-19 catastrophe occurred because of a wide range of environmental, economic, and geopolitical factors and has demonstrated that there are some huge issues that must be addressed in order to keep pandemics caused by coronaviruses and other infectious diseases from becoming a common occurrence in the future.

Moreover, governments and political leaders need to listen to the recommendations of other scientists and epidemiologists in order to ensure the well-being of their citizens and prevent disasters like this from occurring. Infectious disease experts have been warning international governments and the public at large that an outbreak of this nature was brewing but were almost completely ignored.

The extent to which healthcare systems were overwhelmed and people have been unable to access care demonstrates the importance of having a well-organized and accessible healthcare system that can effectively serve everyone in need of medical attention. The coronavirus crisis may be coming to a close, but the road to normalcy still stretches far out into the distance and unless some sweeping changes are made on political, social and economic levels that road will never lead back to a life without catastrophic viral pandemics.

 

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