I was originally going to write something light and fluffy about my current travels. What has interrupted this plan is COVID-19. Of course, this virus has impacted not just little ole me, but the entire global population. Still, some people carry the notion that a virus knows and respects boundaries, especially boundaries that humans have created. The irony is that TSA, Homeland Security, Interpol and the United Nations are helpless before this tiny, yet formidable creature.
If you will bear with me, I am going to digress for just a short moment. Back in the 1980’s, British author James Burke wrote a book called, “Connections.” I was deeply influenced by this book not just for its content, but for its premise and structure, namely that all things are connected in the most mysterious of ways rather than in obvious ones. The book is still in print, and I do encourage you to read it if you are so inspired. The rest of this blog follows Burke’s structure as I am applying it to my current travels, the economy, and the political upheavals we are experiencing in what has been called the industrialized world.
When I left California, the news was replete with counts of COVID-19 deaths in California and Washington State. Our President was quite concerned about the stock market dive, and took charge and created a myth about COVID-19 that seems to have caught on with some, but has caused no end of mistrust by others. In response, the internet exploded with a broad array of tweets, memes, and ‘dialogue’, not unlike the spread of a virus actually, which has resulted in many folks exploiting the situation by selling “protective herbs”, raising the price of masks, and creating shortages.
When I landed in Honolulu, I was struck by how many folks were wearing face masks, in spite of respected medical and public health officials saying these do not protect you. Only a few weeks ago, such a sight would have created fear. Now those fears have decreased and are becoming an accepted norm. That this has happened so quickly is also due, I believe, to a virus-like shift in behavior, which long ago was identified by social psychologists. I asked my Uber driver, a 30-year resident of the Islands, what his observations were. He let me know that one of the chief concerns in Hawaii was how essential supplies were going to be able to get in, living as we do now in a Time-to-Market economy. So, the response to COVID-19 is causing disruption to essential economic markets which will have a trickle down effect causing disruptions to many other associated business interests which will, in the long run, cause even more mistrust in the ability of government to care for its citizens.
The lede on the local news today was, “No cases of COVID-19 identified in the Islands”. I watched as my inner virus scanner breathed a sigh of relief, even as I sneezed. I am now particularly aware of how close I sit, stand, and relate to others. I carry hand sanitizer with me. I cover my face with my elbow when I do sneeze, although it turns out with this virus that just leaves the droplets stuck in my clothing where it apparently will nest for up to 48 hours. I am washing my hands (top and bottom) like crazy, and I am aware that all of this may be helpful, but it is in no way a guarantee that COVID-19 won’t come to visit me.
This leads me to wonder which virus I need to be protecting myself against. Do I search the web for articles and solutions? Do I stay at home? Do I hunker down, purchase Doomsday supplies and wait for God knows how long until this virus and its lifespan come to an end? At the end of these ponderings, I have made the following decisions.
The virus is smarter than I am and I don’t know where it actually is right now. Rather that play hide-and-seek, I am going to use a “probability/possibility” formula to assess two things: my tolerance of the unknown and my ability to manage threat. Here is an example. There is a possibility that by leaving the continental US and heading to Australia and New Zealand, I am actually lowering my risk of exposure to COVID-19 because I will be among groups of people who have yet to be exposed and pass it along. There is also a possibility that I will have a higher risk of exposure to COVID-19 because I will be in close proximity to people who may be carriers and don’t know it, or who are uneducated in the steps needed to decrease the level of spread.
Possibilities tend to trigger my limbic system and cause heightened panic responses. These, in turn, lower my immune system’s ability to restore homeostasis, and make me even more vulnerable to stress-related diseases. Probabilities, on the other hand, actually have a calming effect on me. There is a lower probability of me acquiring any virus because I am a healthy 66-year old. I am on vacation, which while stress-producing in short bursts (e.g., getting through TSA), actually is quite restful and restorative. There is a lower probability of my acquiring COVID-19 because I am adhering to the instructions about washing my hands, keeping a distance, and wiping down surfaces with alcohol wipes and germicidal cleaners. I brought these with me just for this purpose. Finally, there is a lower probability of my acquiring this because there are fewer people traveling.
The impact of this virus cannot be overstated. It will, however, probably go down in history not for the mortality and morbidity statistics, but for how it brought down governments and caused political and economic upheaval throughout the world. And here is where James Burke comes in. All of these are connected. My unrestricted ability to travel actually has an important impact on world markets. The places I am traveling to (Hawaii, Australia, and New Zealand) all have well-developed tourist markets that are essential to the economic welfare of their respective nations.
Yet these economic markets are threatened by the underlying distribution networks that are predicated on production schedules in parts of the world that are now highly impacted by COVID-19. The trickle-down effect is that supplies are not showing up causing shortages which create panic and fear (two different responses). I suspect that as a tourist I am actually in a better position because I will most likely be taken care of quickly and for as long as possible because my economic contributions are essential and, at least in some markets, rank higher than public health issues.
Bottom line here – wash your hands a lot. Remain as stress-free as possible. Don’t believe everything you read. Only pass along information that is based in solid science and reliable sourcing (e.g., World Health Organization). The virus that has the greatest impact is fear. That can only be managed by you.