NICHOLAS A. HORAB WRITES — Coronavirus has exposed the split nature of Americans.
On one side – the neurotic, or the part of America that’s been deprived of their livelihood. The most obvious among them, aside from the infected, are small business owners, service industry workers, and even students. The less obvious are those who have suffered psychologically from self-isolation and global uncertainty. Of course, we can think of the first responders, the nurses and doctors, some of whom will never know what it’s like to be bored at home with their families, or the sixteen-year old cancer patient with weeks left to live, forced to stay inside the house to protect someone else’s grandparents. Here we see a different type of victim, untouched by the virus, yet equally stripped of their liberties.
On the other side – the hysteric, or the part of America with a pathological connection to the coronavirus, blinded by a maniacal view on disaster, dancing around the existence of danger while failing to posit the seriousness we recognize. Perhaps then coronavirus is a way to reaffirm our sociopolitical status. Perhaps the proximity of such a real threat restores our sense of vitality and connectedness to life itself. Perhaps, for some, it helps reinforce the desire, or excuse, to care about worldly issues rather than our own. Either way, Americans can sleep peacefully for sixteen hours a day without feeling compelled to check their inboxes.
I first noticed this second attitude in the media’s fanatical rhetoric around coronavirus, but figured it was just another way to provoke or engage viewers. Then memes began to circulate on social media, followed by baseless conspiracy theories. Next, people were eager to wait in line at grocery stores despite being told not to worry about shortages. COVID-19 became a brand and preventing its spread a trend. Now face masks are the new sunglasses, home cooked meals are the new five-star restaurant, and staying home is the new weekend plan
Many of us are confused about who’s to blame because we’ve been told the shutdown is a legitimate public health response — that social distancing is common sense. Yet contrary to popular belief, a study released by the CDC in March of 2020 outlines the low-quality evidence behind the effectiveness of social distancing. In fact, according to a number of medical studies, social distancing may actually be worse for Americans than the coronavirus itself. Recession data indicates that hundreds of thousands will die from suicide, starvation, inability to access pharmaceuticals, drug abuse and stress-induced immune disease — all as a result of our effort to save lives.
And yet, the world will be irrevocably changed. We have gone digital over a temporary problem, which will certainly lead to permanent lifestyle changes. Some will argue it is good for the environment, others will argue it is bad for the market, but nobody can deny the challenge it poses to the current state of our institutions — which will encourage some Americans to question the value of higher education and the role of government.
Surely some Americans, apart from politicians, see an opportunity in the coronavirus. Others pray for it to end. The overarching question for all is, who does coronavirus hurt most, or perhaps even help, and to what end?