Shelter in Place Part 8 – Imagining the Future

Week 13 of Shelter-in-Place

I’ve been arguing with a friend who advocates re-opening the country, “thinning the herd”, saving the economy. I get that my friend is stressed and just wants life to return to pre-COVID days. I believe, however, that our world of four months ago is irretrievably gone and the sooner we accept this change, the better our options for dealing with it.

Although I retired my architect’s license last year, I haven’t lost my designer sensibility. Architects are optimists. They think they can solve problems, create things, and shape the future. I propose a design exercise for all of us — because all of us will affect our future and because I believe that only imagination will get us unstuck from our past. Here’s the exercise: envision your best-guess scenario for what your world will be like, say, this August. Then, propose what you would advocate to deal with it.

Here’s my nutshell scenario: Pam’s imaginary August 2020  

Sarana Community Acupuncture has been reopened for about a month. We’ve gotten used to treating masked people all seated at least 6’ apart and we’re thinking of expanding our open hours. People are used to wearing masks in public, standing in lines outside of businesses, and answering screening questions before they are allowed to have face-to-face consultations. Things are, in general, halfway between shelter-in-place and fully open. There have been enough COVID flare-ups in places that pushed for full reopening to make most people in most places cautious. However, there is still a lot of frustration, much of it emerging as – mostly peaceful but threatening to escalate – protests for an increasing variety of causes: racial justice, fair wages, protections for service and healthcare workers, food security, rent relief. Meanwhile, the weather has been crazy: drought in half the country, floods, hurricanes, heatwaves beating last year’s record-breaking highs. HMOs are promoting early flu shots in anticipation of a virulent flu season. In the midst of all this, some neighbors are organizing mini-services: shared home-schooling among 3-4 families, garden vegetable swaps, once-a-month outdoor haircuts. People are coping but life remains uncertain with people and states reaching the end of their savings. A COVID vaccine is still assumed to be months away. It feels to me like it’ll be a bleak winter unless we start pulling together.

And here’s what I would advocate. Now is the time to set in place universal safety nets like those created after the Great Depression or World War II. Create WPA-like jobs that provide disaster relief, repair infrastructure, address climate change and serve basic human needs. Develop buddy-systems to keep in touch with the housebound. Open soup kitchens. Make housing affordable. Restore Medicare and Social Security. Fund vaccine research with the proviso that a successful vaccine belongs to the public.

Certainly, building a basic safety net will require reductions in benefits for many: basic care for all but heroic measures for none. Many will argue that I am advocating creation of a welfare state. Yet I believe that America’s greatness has been from our commitment to justice and equal opportunity, not to an ever-increasing disparity between rich and poor. I believe that failing to address basic human needs risks our humanity and our social stability.

So that’s my scenario. What’s yours? – Pam

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