The Virus Doesn’t Care About Our Plans

We’re seeing light at the end of the tunnel, yes. But that’s not necessarily the end of the journey.

Twin Tunnel

Viruses don’t play fair.

That’s an obvious statement in the wake of a pandemic that has left hundreds of thousands dead — and disrupted or destroyed the livelihoods of millions more. But as certain doors re-open (carefully, cautiously, partially), I find myself reflecting on how this pandemic does not discriminate when it comes to the distribution of financial relief.

We still don’t fully understand this disease. Fortunately, the smartest people on the planet have been working tirelessly to gain as much knowledge as possible about how COVID-19 operates. It seems like it mainly moves through the air, most dangerously when propelled by a cough or sneeze. It seems to linger in indoor spaces, particularly if a large number of people are breathing — singing, laughing, talking — in those spaces.

That limited knowledge starts to outline degrees of safety in a variety of activities and places. Outdoors is better than indoors. Big rooms are better than small. Ventilation is suddenly a business owners’ best friend. And the fewer people in one place, the better.

None of that could be described as fair.

Those broad guidelines mean that places we champion for their intimacy — for watching the face of a performer, smelling the aroma of a neighbor’s meal or losing hours in a cozy coffee shop — are now at a disadvantage when compared to places that are better equipped to spread out patrons and ventilate the air.

Those parameters mean that local performers and businesses, for which smaller confines are a fact of life, are at a perilous disadvantage.

And they mean that places with deep cash reserves (like national chains) are going to be better equipped to retrofit, revamp and renovate than the small businesses that are already struggling.

Many businesses, employers and individuals are about to make a difficult decision: To reopen (and roll the dice on what this disease is going to do from here on out) in exchange for a restricted, uncertain path to success; or to remain cautious, stay closed and try to find novel ways to keep the ship above water. 

There will be no universal way to handle it; there is no rubric to make this calculation. It’s imperative that we make our individual choices based on science, caution and care; inevitably, however, we will not agree on the path forward.

Because — unless you know an exceptionally skilled tarot-card reader — there’s no way to know what comes next.

We’re probably going to lose good places, venerable businesses and favorite pastimes along this road. This virus will not level the marginal or superfluous and leave the most worthy standing; the effects will be indiscriminate, mitigated only by unrelated economic factors (most of which, in one way or another, are themselves unfair).

It’s natural to want to believe that the “green” designation we’re now entering marks the beginning of the end of this strange moment in history. We all hope that the rebound comes faster than expected; we all hope a miraculous change sits just around the corner.

There’s a vast difference, however, between wanting something and expecting it. We can all do the former; we would be foolish to rely on the latter.

We’re seeing light at the end of the tunnel, yes. But that’s not necessarily the end of the journey; we don’t yet know what lies ahead. The light at the end of a tunnel doesn’t always reveal the vista that greets drivers as they roll onto the Fort Pitt Bridge — a gleaming, welcoming city.

Sometimes that’s the light at the end of the tunnel. That could be what comes next.

But as anyone who has driven east on the Pennsylvania Turnpike can tell you, that’s not always how things go.

Sometimes you exit the tunnel only to immediately enter another tunnel.

Categories: The 412