The current international news related to the pandemic points to the scary fact of a second wave of the infection. Are we prepared?
Sometime before Easter, a friend (who happens to be a pastor) shared with me a vision of events to come in the Virgin Islands. He suggested that there are likely to be more deaths during this season than there were after hurricanes Irma and Maria — not as a direct result of Covid-19 infection, but as a result of tangential issues related to the pandemic. We ruminated over these impending revelations, but we were powerless to intervene or to alter the course of history.
As I contemplate the times in which we live, I am forced to look back at the storms of 2017 and wonder what lessons were learned. One of those lessons was how devastating the second half of Irma really was and how people had gathered outside during the eye of the storm, unknowingly facing the worst that was fast approaching. I remember well the mad rush to a place of safety as the winds roared back to life.
We are now entering what is probably the second phase of the global pandemic, and we have all been hearing and viewing the stories of the second wave. I wonder what it means in real terms for us here in the VI. It is what can be referred to as the proverbial elephant in the room. What is likely to happen to us if we have a new case or new cases? Are we prepared for a new and possibly more protracted lockdown?
I can well imagine some of us would reply that we will cross that bridge if and when we get there, but what happens if there is no bridge to cross and the waters are rising fast? This would be just like being caught in the second half of the storm unprepared.
There are some very real issues confronting us as we enter this phase of the pandemic. The great “certainty of the uncertainty” leads us to wonder what will sustain us if this phase is longer. The first part was predominantly health-related. The second phase is a mixture of the ongoing health issues directly intertwined with the broader economics that affect our daily lives both in the short and longer terms.
This is where the future starts to look a bit fuzzy, with some dark clouds and maybe thunderstorms hovering over us. Unlike after the hurricanes, where there was help on the horizon and the choice to leave and go to other shores, those options simply do not present themselves as very viable at this time. We all have to face some existential realities on the individual and collective levels. Government has its roles and responsibilities, but in these present circumstances individual commitments are far more significant.
The news out of South America should be of grave concern for us. Brazil now has one of the highest rates of infection globally, and the recent increase in Covid-related deaths in Central and South America and the failures of the health system in Venezuela are all red flags for us. Then there is the issue of the “third economy” (a term coined in our House of Assembly by a then senior member), as we move towards the opening of the real economy. The potential for a case or cases to slip under the radar is an existential threat. The reopening of the entertainment industry, both the public and the private aspects, will of necessity open additional risks. The close personal interactions, the removal of inhibitions and the sometime lack of clear minds for decision-making at bars and nightclubs could create genuine challenges.
The possibility of major psychosocial issues is also a bona fide concern when facing a long summer with limited outdoor activities. Parents have been worn out with the long hours at home, and many residents have been furloughed or terminated and hence are not working. There are no real opportunities for travel, and vacation options are limited. Then there are the queries we will all face about school reopening and what will that mean. It is exhausting just thinking about these issues and even more so contemplating if we will have the resources to confront and intervene therapeutically.
There is an authentic worry about those children who have not had proper supervision during school closing, and those youngsters who have not been able to keep up with online classes for varying social reasons. Is this likely to create a generation of students who have fallen through the cracks? This of course has implications for the immediate family but holds even more of a reality check for us as a wider community and nation. Will we have the resources to cope with both the needed analysis or the wider more medium- to long-term interventions that will become necessary?
Then there is the bigger economic reality. Are we going to have jobs? Are we going to be able to pay our bills, feed our families, and send our children to school?
All the scientific evidence and indications are that this pandemic will be around for a while. The uncertainty of how long continues.
The government can only do so much. It is left to us as individuals and as a community to do our part, and we certainly can be prepared. We generally prepare for the hurricane season and it is imperative that we prepare for a second wave of Covid-19. We must not be complacent and be caught unawares. The old adage that an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure could not be more applicable.
All of the scientific evidence says that wearing masks in public along with social distancing and personal hygienic practices are the best methods of preventing infection spread. But I wonder if it is not time for widespread community testing, a more national-based approach that can be used to enhance the body of scientific literature. Maybe we should be doing both the regular nasopharyngeal swab tests in addition to the antibody testing. This gives us more knowledge of where we are as a territory in the greater scheme of things, with a view to testing the entire territory in a relatively short period of time. This is a way in which we can prepare for the wider opening of the economy and can assist in the decision making as time evolves.
We can share our accumulated knowledge to plan for reintroduction of much-needed visitors. Our decisions can be based on our local situation in association with the regional and international data. This way we can be better prepared for the uncertainties associated with a second wave.