The need to recharge and unwind was in order and like many times previously, we were set to hop in the car and head out for the open road, destination unknown, all we knew was that good food and fun company were a must.
The evening of Thursday, March 12, 2020, Dallas County, the 2nd largest county in the United States declared a State of Emergency and in conjunction with several North Texas cities had shut down schools, community centers and workplaces to mitigate the community spread of COVID-19. While encouraging everyone to self-distance and take all necessary precautions to protect not only themselves, but those identified within vulnerable populations.
“And if everyone does their part, if everyone thinks about what is best for the community when they make their decisions, we'll beat this thing. If only some of us do that, then we probably won't beat this thing. So, it takes all of us," Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said in an interview. This drastically changed our once hopeful plans of visiting a different landscape and retreated to a staycation. Bringing us to early Saturday morning, March 14th, which started out as any other day, traffic was still full on the road, our local breakfast eatery was busy, but not the usual busting out of the door crowd, people were in a general jovial sense and nothing seemed too panic stricken. In order to prepare for self-distancing, the necessity of stocking up on some essentials was in order. This led to a trip to the grocery store. Upon entering the grocery store, there was a large crowd growing around the registers, but it was not an unreasonable line. The shelves were reasonably stocked, except for paper goods, which still boggles our mind. Once we completed our shopping about 30 minutes later, the line had built up to the back of the store. With only 3 cashiers dedicated to serving us for the day, it had become clear that we would be in line for a while.
While waiting some interesting things came to mind as we pondered our situation. With social distancing being adopted as a viable means to reduce the spread of the virus, being cooped up in a grocery store for over an hour and a half for a mere 15 items seemed rather counter intuitive. However, with a deeper look we begin to realize how dependent we have become on a few select industries, and to some extend how dependent our economy is on this industrial model. The grocery stores need personnel to support the operation, and the personal need the work to support their livelihoods. Their employment, dependent on our ability to spend, and our ability to work ourselves.
This poses a unique problem though for this type of disaster, as each trip for necessities becomes a potential risk to infection. Even with the advances of technology, moving products, including food, is a human affair, requiring multiple hands of transaction to mobilize a product from one location to another. Each of these becomes a point of failure should one person either receiving a product or delivering suddenly forget to wash their hands, sneeze, or touch something contaminated. Yet, shutting the system down without an adequate safety net can cause severe unemployment and amplify the effects of poverty and homelessness.
This begs the question, how prepared are we for this type of event even if funding was appropriately allocated? Bill Gates did an interesting TED Talk in 2015, going over some of the highpoints of the Ebola Containment. While not an expert in infections disease, he did highlight the need for a robust global healthcare system, which also echo comments from a much more recent talk by Alanna Shaikh. Social Distancing was an effective strategy St. Louis used in 1918 to reduce the impact of Spanish Flu, however, in 1918 the internet didn’t exist and our transportation networks where not as robust as they are today. Even with these limitations, the Spanish Flu is widely regarded as the deadliest pandemic in modern history, affecting roughly 1/3 of the world’s population and killing over 50 million. The spread mainly fueled by the aftereffects of a world war, brought the virus to the USA in three distinct waves.
We live in different times, so our strategies must adjust to serve effectively, necessitating funding for research and simulations to proactively plan the worst-case scenarios. Social Distancing can still play a part in helping contain the spread, but adequate safety nets will play a crucial role in supporting the aftermath and providing a stable base for those that do get infected to seek treatment without the worry of economic burdens. The pandemic in 1918 helped illuminate these factors, as the populations most effected usually suffered from severe social-economic conditions, often limiting their ability to seek healthcare until it was too late. This laid the ground for a cognitive shift began that lead to drastic changes in public health strategies, which included in part, socialized healthcare.
This realization in combination with the risk inherent with our global economic models challenge us to think how we might do things better. In conjunction with a robust healthcare system, economic safety nets become a rising necessity for a community to thrive. Tasked with the choice to reduce the risk of spreading the disease or going to work to make rent is not a good set of choices. With Mitt Romney and the White House proposing a new $1,000 fund to cover families during these pressing times, it is apparent that for many, simply staying at home is not feasible option without help. There is a myriad of other factors we start to drift to such as climate change, gender inequities, and the capitalistic narratives of the bootstrapper which favor to pit us against those with misfortune.
With the bubble of this day drift popped with checkout time we mosey to the counter to pay for our groceries. It took an hour and thirty minutes for us to purchase a total of 15 items. During this time, we saw people patiently waiting in line and only one person that left the line. Things where calm, and we even got to exchange in mild dialogue with some fellow community members. As we check out these thoughts sit on us for the rest of the day. Every individual will be impacted by the pandemic in some fashion. With a looming cloud of economic uncertainty, the long-lasting ramifications are unknown. COVID-19 will be a part of our lives now, how we go about learning from it will be seen.
Jesse Herrera is the Founder & Chief Visionary of CoAct North Texas which designs human-centered solutions for today's most pressing and ambitious challenges. www.coactntx.org
Amanda J. Arizola, MBA MHSM is the Co-Founder of CoACT North Texas. She is a Public Voices Alumni Fellow of the OpEd Project.