Will Covid-19 make us humane?

Published On: March 23, 2020 10:50 AM NPT By: Mukesh Baral

Mukesh Baral

Mukesh Baral

The author is Cofounder at Advocacy for Refugee and Immigrant Services for Empowerment (ARISE), a nonprofit organization based in Massachusetts

The absence of positive cases in Nepal does not mean the absence of virus altogether. It could mean there are no enough tests performed to find the infected people

There were a very few vehicles on the road. I flew on I-93 and reached Boston downtown in no time. Boston was eerily empty. I pulled my car on the side of the road and rushed to my office building. I wanted to make it quick. I input the codes on the door pad, placed my hand under the self dispensing hand sanitizer, pushed the floor number on the elevator button and took a long sigh of relief when the door opened. There was no one in the elevator, providing all the space for myself. I did not need to worry about the social distancing measure that I had recently come to appreciate. I had not left home for a week and felt uneasy with everything—empty roads, empty elevators, empty office buildings and a mind that had never dealt with so much of safety concern just for getting out of home.

On the way home, I stopped at a CVS to pick a gallon of milk and an over-the-counter medicine. The store had a long line of people picking prescription medications. I was never that uncomfortable in the presence of people as I knew asymptomatic people also shed the virus and could be equally dangerous like those who have been tested positive. The store had run out of gallon milk containers. I picked two half gallons and left the store in a flash. I pulled out a hand sanitizer, from my right jacket pocket and rubbed it on my hands before I pulled the car key that I had put on the left pocket. After scanning through the models of death and destruction in multiple countries, I was taking every precaution I could think of. My negligence will put my family in danger.

Flattening the curve
As of this writing, 300,000 people have caught Covid-19 and 13000 have died worldwide. In the US, there have been over 25,000 confirmed cases and over 300 deaths. The rate of transmission of Covid-19 is three times every step, which means one infected person can infect three, these three will infect nine, nine will infect 27, 27 to 81 and so on. The 25,000 cases of the US might triple to 75,000 anytime. It is estimated that within a couple of weeks or a month, the US could have million positive cases and tens of thousands of deaths, if the government doesn’t move from mitigation to suppression as a measure.

After the state guidelines, in response to Covid-19, Massachusetts has come to a screeching halt—no schools, no work or work from home if possible. Social distancing is being floated by the state as a key to curb the spread of the virus. But this is not helping to pull the curve downwards.

Flattened curve is what the government is hoping to achieve so that the limited health care system does not get overrun by people with coronavirus. Even the president, who once called the virus a hoax and undermined it for a month, now talks about flattening the curve. Four states including New York and California are on lockdown. 

On the ride back home the radio program on NPR was emphasizing the measures announced by Center for Disease Control (CDC) to curb/slow the transfer of Covid-19. The stock exchange was crashing down and had lost everything that the market gained after Trump became the president. I was just at awe with how the measuring system that the neoliberal capitalism put so much weight on crashed in a matter of hours. The market has lost more than trillion dollars in couple of weeks. But very few cared about that crash. The virus had taken over the news. The market crash does not directly impact 90 percent of Americans. In fact, this measurement does not represent everyday America. Everyday Americans can’t fork out 400 dollars worth of unexpected expenses. Forget about the investment in these crazy markets. But, this destabilizing market is going to impact people’s livelihood now. They know that. And that is why they are picking meds, bread, and milk impatiently. 

Does that mean this neoliberal measurement of priorities is no less than gambling and needs to be replaced by something that focuses not on blown out arbitrary numbers but real values that other 90 percent find it reasonable to participate? 

The 90 percent who live paycheck to paycheck are already losing jobs and income and without the unemployment check they can’t put food on the table. The long term recession will surely destabilize the economy. I don’t know if the social distancing will flatten the coronavirus curve but this crisis will certainly flatten the human ego that neoliberalism had injected in so many people who lived in their security bubbles of unending wealth and mistakenly thought they were invincible.

Light of Pandemic
Sometimes you need a wave of disaster to show the failure of a system. In a way, this pandemic is exposing how inaccurate our success is being measured, or how messed up America is. From the concentration of wealth to unequal access to services, the wide chasm between the rich and the poor, the disconnect between the ruling and the ruled, it is exposing everything naked. Donald Trump is that naked King who vehemently denies that he is naked. And his team has no guts to tell him the truth. There are Americans who do not have the luxury of getting paid while sick, and therefore they will have no money to feed their family. 

But, the President is fixated on being right. The entire political establishment knew that half of the America survived in a gig economy making big money for big corporations and earn poverty wages for themselves. But everyone was citing job numbers as if the jobs that paid no sick leave were okay. As if poverty wages was the new American Dream. No political parties wanted to change that for the benefit of everyday people. These representatives of people were perfectly fine with companies enslaving the people without a sick leave. It took a pandemic to show how messed up the system is.

It has also started to expose the limited capacity of our health care system. It has highlighted how the system has always focused on profits rather than care. There are stories of citizens who have waited up to a week to be tested. Covid-19 curve needs to be flattened. But there are other curves, curves of inequality, injustice, and incompetence that absolutely need to be flattened too. 

We can start with the curve of Americans without insurance coverage. According to some estimates, more than 30 million people are uninsured and do not have an access to a doctor. Add that with hundreds of thousands of homeless people. Talk about government priorities in one of the richest countries in the world. Coronavirus is spreading like a wildfire. And from the health care perspective, just imagine America as a dried jungle. All the people who were structurally barred from getting insurance for being too poor to afford care, will fall flat in this pandemic. It in a way is a perfect reminder for all of us who always took even the basic health care as a privilege, not as human rights. We did not care how sick our neighbor was because it never impacted our health. Now we know that my insurance plan is as good as my neighbor’s health care access. We will be competing with the same people who were denied insurance, for the most needed emergency care in this pandemic. Only time will tell us the cost of denying timely care. Since we rated our success on the rising stock market, and forgot to rate our values and compassion, we have miserably failed. 

Our material pursuit has made us so much incompetent that we have no idea what is happening in the world. We elected a president who believes in his own hunches more than the data of his experts, and we are paying the price for it. America had a late start on testing Covid-19 because of his hunches. The Covid-19 will kill tens of thousands of Americans. Millions in the world, according to one estimate, will perish. Now we will understand that countries are like airplanes. Incompetent captains will crash them. But, thanks to the Covid-19, we might now understand that we need to revive the humanity because our life has lost its very purpose.

Nepali dilemma
Nepal still does not have the positive cases does not mean it won’t have any. The absence of positive cases in Nepal does not mean the absence of virus altogether. It could also mean there are no enough tests performed to find infected people. Countries with resources in Asia are reporting cases. It took couple of weeks for the US to realize that the problem was on testing. Nepalis need to test themselves, government needs to make the process easy for them and people need to obey the social distancing and other measures prescribed by the government.

I see that people are running to their favorite temples because they think they would be protected by God. We have those brainwashed in America too—a newspaper quoted a pastor of a church whose members were willing to lick the church floor to prove that the virus is a hoax. These religiously blindfolded were not aware that the entire church mass was found positive in South Korea. They were sprayed salt water directly in their mouths from the same sprayer to protect them from the virus.

One person with a virus was enough to contaminate the sprayer nozzle distributing the virus to all. Some Hindu extremists are suggesting that cow urine will save them. Stupidity kills. It actually is the biggest killer in the world. 

In crisis, people are starting to realize that they are human beings. The understanding that power and money is not going to protect us from a virus is making us humane. The humanity that we were excited to peel off from those crossing the borders has come to bite our behind. The visuals floating around the internet about American anxiety shopping of groceries and toilet papers rolls probably will give us a compassionate lens to look at the cages at our southern border and realize that people take desperate measures at desperate times. 

Crossing the human made imaginary line for saving kids might be seen as a desperate measure taken by desperate parents and not a crime. Covid-19 might help restore our standards of behaviors and open our hearts for refugee kids dying of hunger in Syria now. Let’s hope.

It’s yet to see whether Covid-19 pandemic will restore the dwindling moral measuring rods we human beings are carrying.

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