What are the most important things to remember as this earth-shaking pandemic rolls through our communities? The first is that every life is a sacred trust to be protected. That the dignity of every person is to be respected. These are not lofty and abstract ideas but ones that face us every day. Especially during the pandemic. These ideas are why I must protect the people you love. They are why you need to protect the people I love. They are why you and I should not be looking for the momentary pleasure by ducking our responsibility for physical distancing.
It is tempting to say, “But surely just getting together with a couple of friends can’t really do any harm?” But what if one of us has caught COVID 19 and does not yet have symptoms and we all walk away from our pleasant get together carrying the virus? What if over the next week the three of us continue to be careless but only infect a couple of people a day. One case has become 3 and 3 becomes 6 and 6 becomes 12. Then 12 becomes 24; 24 becomes 48; 48 becomes 96; an by the end of the week 96 becomes 192. All that in only one short week. But with a death toll of 3% that is between five and six dead people that someone loved. Perhaps someone we loved.
But we might say, “But I don’t have symptoms. No sore throat, no temperature, no cough. It is safe for me to be with a couple friends with no symptoms.” Alas, we have learned that once a person catches the COVID virus they can be symptom free, or have very mild symptoms for days, and some people never get very sick. But they can pass on the virus. So minimize any contact with people. When we need food or medicine or something we can go out. But helping others means never get closer to others than 2 metres. If we have a non-medical quality face mask wear it, not to protect us but, to protect others. When we touch things like door handles or shopping carts with our hands we need to wash them or sanitize them as soon as possible to protect ourselves. Remember, keeping ourselves safe is a gift to others as well.
We live in a society where winning and looking after number one is what we are told works best. At the same time we know the disappointment of coming second or third or worse. Many know the depression of seldom or never winning. But we all know how good it makes us feel when we do something thoughtful for someone and see them smile. We live in a world where most of the joy and well being we experience comes from helping each other. We live in a world where helping each other gets things done better and faster. Co-operation is the most important thing we do. COVID 19 thrives with selfish individualism and is defeated by co-operation, by the desire to help each other. Co-operation and doing things to help others is ‘socially close’ and can be done while ‘physically distant’.
196 new infections is just the start of the harm. There are many people who are working in essential services. They are the people we are most likely to infect outside of the people with whom we live. They are risking their lives to insure we have food, many things we really need, and health care for the almost 200 people the little ‘get together’ infected. Will a healthcare worker pay with her or his life for our get together? A grocery store clerk? A janitor?
But we might ask, if physical distancing works why is the number of the COVID 19 cases still growing? Victory is not no new cases tomorrow. Victory is new cases at a rate that our wounded health care system can handle. Victory is being able to take care of people with COVID 19 and mothers giving birth and someone with a broken leg or a heart attack. The slower we can have this illness spread the more we will all be winners.
There are co-operative values we can live by to create a better world. Co-operatives emerged in response to the excesses of the industrial revolution. They grew out of brutal exploitation and a society rife with horrendous abuses. People sought a better alternative. Today we face a pandemic made especially lethal by social and income inequality, hyper individualism, self-interest and greed. Let us choose instead to live by a set of life affirming co-operative values: Equity; equality; mutual self-help; self-responsibility; democracy; solidarity; honesty; openness; social responsibility; and caring for others. These are the values of a healthy society.
If we can, we should find a small or large group and pitch in to help as much as possible. If we have enough money we should look to find a local group like a food kitchen delivering meals to people and donate. We should pick up the phone and call our friends and neighbors or seniors or people who are self-isolating to protect us, just so they know someone is thinking of them. We can also tell health care workers or grocery store clerks or janitors or truck drivers how much we admire them for taking risks to help us survive this dangerous time. Let’s co-operate.