It sounds a little absurd, but my life has literally not changed in the wake of closed schools, shuttered businesses, and social distancing following the spread of the novel coronavirus. As a freelance writer working for a major online publisher, it’s business as usual. I already worked from home and am well-practiced in social distancing (or, as I previously called it, being an introvert).
This has made me acutely aware of a certain privilege I have. Unlike many people who find themselves working reduced hours or being laid off completely, my job is not at risk (yet, anyway). In fact, the more people stay home, the more time they spend on the internet — a good thing for an online media business.
I also don’t have children — I don’t even have pets — which means I have no additional obstruction to getting my work done. (Yes, I know, I’m also missing out on the joys of parenthood). Many of my friends are single parents, and with Oregon schools closed until at least April 28, even those who can work from home are going to struggle to be productive as they balance work with caring for their children full time. (Of course, I also don’t have a good excuse for getting out of work, yet here I am writing a personal blog rather than working on an a story for the company that pays my bills).
Then there is the privilege of location, and I don’t just mean living in a developed country with (hopefully, maybe) access to good healthcare (sometimes, if you can afford it, if we #flattenthecurve). I live in a somewhat rural area, away from the crowds but not so far from civilization that I don’t have easy access to, well, everything. There is a hiking trail right across the street from my apartment. I can get outside, enjoy the sun, go for a walk, and potentially still not see another person. I’m a little bummed about not being able to hang out at a bar or coffee shop — locations where I tend to be more productive than when I work from home — but that is such an incredibly minor sacrifice that it doesn’t bear mentioning. But I already mentioned it, so…
Even as it feels like business as usual for me, I feel conflicted about wanting to get back to business as usual for the rest of the world. Gosh, that sounds horrendously selfish. Obviously, I want people to be able to work, to be able to care for themselves and their families, and even to go to escape rooms or whatever it is social people do. But the skies have cleared in China. The waters have cleared in Venice.
From an outside perspective, it’s impossible to not see the positive effects brought on by this global change in behavior. But China and Italy have been hit hard by the coronavirus, and if you lost a loved one to it, cleaner air or water is of little respite.
Yet this shows that we do have the power to make a positive effect on the environment when we come together. And this, too, can save lives. Ambient air pollution causes more than 4 million deaths per year, according to WHO. Yet we’ve never treated it like a pandemic; we’ve never changed behavior on a global scale to combat it. This is to say nothing of the looming threat of climate change.
I don’t say this to diminish the weight of the coronavirus. It, too, could cause millions of death in the U.S. alone if we don’t take drastic steps to limit its spread. But recent events have proven that despite everything — the enormity of the human population, the divisive political era we find ourselves in — we can still come together for the benefit of all.
And if we can do it to face the coronavirus, we can do it for other threats. Many people have said this recently, but I’ll say it again: We’re in this together. Let’s not forget that once we make it to the other side of this particularly dark tunnel.