Andrew’s Weekend Pick’s – Doom and Gloom and Sturm und Drang edition

The publishing of the Courier Weekend has been suspended for the duration of the pandemic, and as such this will be the last Weekend Picks until we return to regularly scheduled programming.

These are interesting times, and it’s not just because of the global pandemic and the resurgence in popularity of disaster movies on Netflix. Introverts across the world are reeling in shock as they learn their default state of being is now referred to as “quarantine”.

I’ve been fairly honest with you throughout the year and half that I’ve been writing this. You’ve learned quite a bit about my life, and how I see the world. It’s truly been a pleasure to be able to share that with you.

I’ve always been the type of person who people call cynical – but I think that’s are unfair (or at least incomplete) categorization. My sister once said I was cynical about the world at large, but not about people – and I think that’s probably more accurate. People are good, but collections of them can sometimes do pretty stupid things.

Governments across the world have been too slow to respond to this, and some remain ineffective in their response. For the time being they will continue to pretend this lockdown will only last a few weeks, but across the world back room talks are being held and worst case scenarios are being discussed. So let’s create our own back room and talk briefly about the worst case – not so we panic, but so we can plan.

Three days ago the Imperial College in London released the first (of likely many) studies on the effects of the coronavirus on populations in the UK and the US, and the report was likely responsible for the dramatic shift in both countries. They used data from China, Italy, and Korea to model outcomes based on three different reactions to the virus. First, what happens if nothing is done and the virus is allowed to run its course like the seasonal flu is. Second, what happens if a middle ground is taken and those who test positive are quarantined along with those they have been in contact with. And third, what happens if extreme social distancing is immediately enforced, non essential workplaces and schools are shut down, and public gatherings are banned, along with the quarantine of those who test positive and their family members.

The result of the first option is four million deaths in the US alone in the coming months. Hospitals would be (and already are being) overwhelmed, and the need for crucial life saving ventilators would outweigh the availability of them by an order of magnitude.

The result of the second option is better, but still significant. Deaths in the US alone will be cut in half in the coming months, but hospitals and ventilators will still be inadequate to meet the need.

The results of the third option are the best yet. Deaths will peak in the US at around a few thousand a few weeks from now, and then begin to go down. Ventilators will be in short supply, but there will likely be enough to go around.

But, here’s the catch. Even if countries manage to implement such strict policies and keep them in place for long enough, they can’t end. The minute they are relaxed and people begin to gather again, the virus comes back and kills millions in a matter of months.

According to the study, if countries stick to and implement option number three, it can likely be relaxed for a month every two months or so. This would allow the virus to spread through the population in a way which doesn’t overwhelm the healthcare system. This pattern would have to continue until enough of the population had contracted the virus and recovered to provide herd immunity, or a vaccine is developed and administered to the majority of people on earth.

According to most of the people who make vaccines it will take at a minimum 18 months to develop and test a vaccine.

This is our current understanding of worst case/best case scenarios – and as you can see, the best case isn’t all that great. It essentially requires us to shut down the economy for months at a time, for a period of a year and a half.

The fallout of this could be worse than the great depression. Unemployment will skyrocket, business will shutter, governments will go into debt, and even vital logistics networks could fail leading to shortages.

But here is where the not cynical about people part comes in. There are brilliant ones across the world working to solve this problem. Whether that be hospital staff, grocery store staff, logistics workers, or researchers working towards a vaccine (and who knows, maybe all of this will finally be the end of the anti-science anti-vax movement).

But more than that, this gives us an opportunity to re-evaluate what is important in our communities and in our country. If the system that we have built exposes the fragility of having just-in-time global supply chains and free trade agreements which have centralized power and turned labour into a resource to be exploited, we will be left to come up with something better. No matter what happens in the coming months and years, it will be up to us to create a world that is focused more on well-being than it is on wealth creation.

So as you’re hoping for the best, while preparing for the worst (stop buying all the toilet paper though, it’s stupid), you’re going to run into the wall that anybody who has been in self isolation for any period of time will run into – cabin fever.

It’s imperative, for the safety of us all, that we stick to social distancing. For right now, it is the only thing that stops this pandemic from being a full blow crisis which threatens society.

So here are some things that you can do at home to entertain the mind, and lift the spirit.

Entertainers move online

Famous faces across the world are self isolating just like the rest of us, and many of them have moved to social media to entertain themselves and their fans.

Singers Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato, Justin Bieber, John Legend and his wife, model Chrissy Teigen, rapper Cardi B, actor Hilary Duff and others have flocked to Instagram Live to entertain fans, and performers like Legend, Coldplay’s Chris Martin and Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard have even used the hashtag #TogetherAtHome to promote their streams meant to entertain millions stuck at home.

Josh Gad and Amy Adams have even taken to reading children’s books from home and broadcasting it in order to entertain the little ones stuck at home (and give parents a break).

The use of social media is likely to continue to explode in the coming days – but instead of filling your feeds entirely with doom and gloom, consider adding some entertainment to lift the cabin fever for a bit.

Free streaming musicals

BroadwayHD has made their service free for a limited time, allowing anybody to watch musicals from their couch.

On the platform, subscribers will find a combination of acquired performances including performances of Cats, The King and I, and Sound of Music, along with originals the platform filmed including performances of Kinky Boots and 42nd Street, from Broadway, The West End, and other elite venues around the world.

The company announced this month, in addition to its pre-existing library of nearly 300 productions, they will be curating two new playlists for anyone hoping to binge-watch some seriously stellar performances.

Virtual tours of museums

Some time ago, Google teamed up with over 500 museums and galleries in order to create virtual tours of them. Their vast collection includes the British Museum in London, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, the Guggenheim in New York City, and literally hundreds of more places where you can gain knowledge about art, history, and science. This collection is especially good for students who are looking for ways to stay on top of their studies while schools are closed. Personal favorites are the Musee d’Orsay in Paris (but only because I once ate dinner there and not because French Impressionism is the best) and the Pergamon Museum in Berlin because history is cool.

The Berlin Philharmonic goes digital

The Philharmonic is closed to help contain the coronavirus. But the orchestra will continue to play for you in the Digital Concert Hall. The Berliner Philharmoniker invites you to visit their virtual concert hall free of charge.

“We hope that through this initiative we can give pleasure to as many people as possible with our music. We already miss our public very much and hope that in this way we can remain in contact with our audience at least virtually,” says Olaf Maninger, principal cellist and chair of the orchestra’s media board.

I saw one show at the Berlin Philharmonic when I lived there, and it remains one of the best concerts I’ve ever heard.

Go outside

This one is important. The weather is getting better and it’s lighter for longer. After the winter, the last thing our delicate psyches need is to be trapped inside all the time. So go out for a walk. Stretch those legs and get some blood flowing. There is nothing like a good walk (not getting too close to people) to bring some perspective to our world. It might be muddy in the forests, but it’s still important to pay our respects to them – lest we begin to think that they are just a few trees.

andrewsutton@stcroixcourier.ca