• Michael Ruscoe

How to Save Ourselves: Forget "Normal"

by guest columnist JeriAnn M. Geller

The fondest hope these days, the refrain we hear over and over again, is: “I can’t wait to get back to normal.” Well friends, I yearn for normal as much as the next human, but in my opinion “normal” is the enemy. Nothing good lies on the path to normal—not health, not safety, not comfort, and not saving humanity or the planet. In fact, even “new normal” is dangerous because these times require a certain flexibility and lightness of foot that can adapt and adapt again. But don’t despair. Our salvation lies in foregoing normal and carving out something different, something better.

Let’s face it—even before COVID-19, normal didn’t get us anywhere. Stalemate in Washington? Business as normal. Racism, sexism, homophobia, antisemitism, or Islamophobia? Business as normal. Dog-eat-dog world? Business as normal. Fuck normal.

Instead, it’s time to embrace different. It’s time to forge a new path that has at its heart the need to take care of one another. It’s the only way we will survive. If we do this, if we can commit ourselves to putting this new path first, we can keep one another safe no matter how long it takes to create a working vaccine.

I know a lot of people are looking at the development of a vaccine as a magic bullet, and my hopes ride as high as everyone else’s, but stop that. The best-case scenario is an effective vaccine that works for a majority of people WHO AGREE TO BE VACCINATED (more about this later), with minimum side effects, for an effective length of time. Most likely, we will have multiple vaccines and need yearly inoculations. No one knows just how long the development will take or whether there will be enough for everyone. Even then, the anti-vaxxers will, as usual, put those who can’t tolerate or don’t have access to vaccines at risk. (Please note: I am NOT talking about folks who can’t get vaccinations due to health reasons.)

But as we await a vaccine, there’s a lot we can do. And I believe it will be through a combination of methods that we will achieve a new level of well-being. These include:

Understanding how masks work. There’s a pretty hefty body of scientific study that says masks are effective. Maybe not 100 percent effective but surprisingly reliable. There’s even more research suggesting how to make them more effective, including methods that can be implemented by home sewers, not to mention manufacturers who want to cash in on this demand. Knowing how to wear one, how to dispose of or clean one, when to wear one, and which type to try would make an appreciable difference. Hey, Vox and Buzzfeed, get those informational videos going.

Touch me not. Not only have disposable gloves been hard to come by, but most people don't know how to use them properly. (More informational videos would help here too.) Now there are companies hawking antimicrobial gloves. What are they? Have they been tested? Are they safe and effective? We need to understand how to choose and use gloves, and we need devices that will enable us not to touch public surfaces. This could be a bonanza for our STEM-loving inventive types.

Just keep washing. Yes, we’re all tired of scrubbing our hands with obsessive thoroughness, but it remains one of the best lines of defense. If someone out there wants to peddle better soaps and hand cremes, this is your moment. Meanwhile, scrubbing up will continue to save us, so don’t quit now.

More and better testing. If there’s one thing we should be screaming for, it’s more and better testing. The man behind the curtain who insists testing will make us look bad should be held in criminal contempt. South Korea got their outbreak under control thanks to testing, and baseball fans everywhere are grateful. We need to have ready testing for the virus in the U.S., as well as antibody tests for those recently affected. While it’s true we don’t know how much, if any, protection against the virus having COVID-19 antibodies affords us, we do know that blood plasma from those who have recovered can help save lives. For those of us who long to be with loved ones again, being tested for the virus can mean reuniting with family members if everyone tests negative. Testing can help stop transmission. Temperature guns can’t do that.

Treatments that work. While we may never be able to flat-out cure coronavirus, there have been glimmers of promise about treatments that actually work. The Israelis are working hard on this, and as I mentioned earlier, there’s been promise with blood plasma from people recently recovered. Remdesivir and other antivirals also show possibilities. We need a Moon-Shot type of worldwide project on this, as well as vaccinations.

Smile on your brother. We can save ourselves only by saving one another. This works best on the local level. Don’t worry about the armed protesters in Michigan or the anti-vaxxers in California. Take care of yourself and the people around you. Keep those social distances. Take care of the elderly by staying away but making sure they have everything they need. Check on your friends and neighbors. Even as things get better, these measures still apply. By keeping one another safe, we can starve the virus. We won’t completely eradicate it in a huge, open country like ours, but we can slow down the rate of transmission. How about a town-by-town initiative across America to prevent new cases of coronavirus?

Eat local. There’s a poorly reported nightmare going on in our food sector. Small farms are failing as farmworkers grow ill and crops and products are dumped to rot. Restaurants are struggling to survive. Small groceries struggle. Local nurseries wonder if they can afford to stock the next growing season. Meanwhile, concerns about cross-country shipments and processing plant closures make us fear that food will run out. The answer is to go local. Subscribe to a CSA plan from a local farm—many offer, in addition to fruits and vegetables, eggs, dairy, cheese, and even meat. Patronize your local restaurants that employ safe practices. Plant a garden with seeds or plants from your local nursery. Keeping it all local is good for your community’s economy, your wallet, and your stomach.

Embrace the science community. The people of the frontlines—our healthcare workers, first responders, and scientists—need us now, more than ever before. Make no mistake, this has been a war for the survival of the human race, and they are on the frontlines. Not only do they need money, they need emotional and moral support. I’d like to see Congress issue medals for these incredible heroes, and I’d like the private sector to step up to pay their medical school debts. (And, hey, isn’t it time we had some sort of medical GI Bill to help train more medical professionals?) I think that boosting them during these unprecedented times will help them save the rest of us, and isn’t that what we all want?

Think before you go. If we learned one thing from social isolation, it’s that we don’t need to travel to have meetings, performances, and celebrations. Yes, we all love an in-person experience, but this isn’t that time. If it requires big crowds, close quarters, or extensive use of resources, it’s probably not in anyone’s best interest. It’s time to change how we do business and consider the costs of overusing resources. Selfishness just won’t cut it anymore.

Be good to your mother. One of the most extraordinary, unexpected gifts of the pandemic is the cleaning of the planet. Cities that haven’t been smog-free in generations—Beijing, Delhi, New York, Venice, London—are suddenly pristine. The air is clear. Mother nature has a chance to recover. This may not save us from the pandemic, but it’s much easier to breathe after a respiratory illness when the air is clear. And it may just save us in the long run. We’ve been given a reprieve from the global warming endgame. Can we really afford to squander this unexpected gift that can assure our long-term survival?

I realize that I’m not saying anything new here, but the message is worth repeating. This “different” way of life is going to take diligence, hard work, and a commitment to survive. It’s going to take a new mindset and a fresh perspective to create a better, safer, and healthier country. We have all the tools we need to make it happen. We just have say, “fuck normal,” and start putting people first. Nothing less will work—but we can do it. Are you with me?

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

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