It’s been a little more than a year since COVID-19 (which didn’t even have a real name then) showed up in the United States. Have we really learned anything in that time period, outside of the idea we should wash our hands a lot, which our mothers all told us we should do when were little? Well, here’s what I’ve learned from COVID-19 (so far):
• A crisis brings people together … or not. The medical and scientific professions showed how a disaster can cause people to work together for the good of mankind. Researchers who cooked up vaccines in record times, selfless health care workers on the job until they dropped, first responders and emergency workers never flinching to do their jobs — they all showed the good side of human nature.
Unfortunately, the general population pretty much flunked this test. We spent our time fighting about wearing masks and inventing various conspiracies and filling up social media with all kinds of wild ideas. It’s a sad state of affairs that we’re so obsessed with our own ideas that we don’t take time to consider how we can do something for the rest of humanity.
• On the other hand, science doesn’t know everything. Let’s face it, for quite a while no one knew exactly what was going on. That doesn’t bother me so much, except that in some quarters it was deemed better to act like the scientists knew and not really tell the whole story — just in case us normal people might go berserk (which many of us did, anyway). Hundreds of years ago, the cutting edge scientists believed in bleeding people as sound medical practice and that life sometimes was created by spontaneous generation. Our current scientists know a lot more than those people did, but they’re still human and I suspect if the world survives a few hundred more years our descendants will look at us and ask, “Did they actually believe that?”
• America’s strength is also its weakness. Life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness! Our individualism is the greatest thing about the good old U.S. of A. When it comes to fighting a pandemic, it’s also our greatest weakness. Our “me first” mentality makes it hard to put together a unified way to fight this kind of thing. We all want to do our own thing no matter how it affects other people. Yes, we have rights, and that includes the right to not exercise some of those rights at times to help other people.
• Our health care system isn’t built to fight pandemics. I’m not someone who complains about our health care system — the price, yes, but not the care. Why is it that people who can afford it from countries all over the world come here when they need expert medical care? We’re good at it, that’s why. We just can’t figure out how to make it fairly available to everyone. But when it comes to fighting a pandemic, our lack of centralization and inability to convince people to take basic measures is a real problem. No, I don’t have a way to fix that. After all, I’m an American and I cherish my right to complain without having any better ideas.
• All in all, it’s pretty depressing, really. We can whip just about anybody in the known universe, but we get brought to our knees by a microscopic thing that most of us didn’t even know existed.
Still, there are some good things to come out of this. Theoretically, we will be better prepared for the next one. We have made giant strides in telemedicine in just a single year. We were pretty creative in finding ways to keep businesses alive. Maybe most of all, there are the millions of stories of individual people who went out of their way to help others in small and large ways. Those people don’t get the headlines, but they are the real heroes of the story.
And one last lesson learned: You remember the advice from the movie “The Graduate?”
“Just one word: plastics.”
Here’s a modern version of that for all you investors:
“Just two words: toilet paper.”