As we enter week six of our normal way of life being upended by the novel coronavirus, we find ourselves at a crucial juncture.
Virginia is predicted to reach its peak in average daily deaths and hospitalizations this week, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. In Alexandria, our hospitalizations for COVID-19 jumped by 50 percent in three days earlier this week, from 40 to 60, according to the Virginia Department of Health website. We have outbreaks in at least three Alexandria senior living facilities.
We are at a perilous point.
Most of us are simultaneously worried about getting sick but also tired of the restrictions. Some are wearied of working from home, while others are fearful they won’t be able to pay their bills after being laid off.
Parents are concerned that their students are falling behind academically. High school and college seniors are experiencing a real sense of loss at missing their last few months in school, with all of the rites of passage they entail.
Frustrations are bubbling over in places, and protests are popping up around the country as people are beginning to push back against govern- ment-imposed restrictions.
There are a number of important questions that we as a society need to discuss as we recover from the novel coronavirus and plan for future pandemics, including:
• How much in the way of civil liberties are we willing to give up, and for how long, to combat this – or any – pandemic?
• The initial estimates for infections, hospitalizations and deaths seem to have been seriously inflated. How much of that was due to flawed models, which were supposedly taking physical distancing efforts into account?
• Are we willing to take an ageist approach in re-opening our economy? In other words, will we lift stay-at-home restrictions on younger people, perhaps below age 35, before lifting them for older citizens? Is this reasonable, given that younger people have significantly lower infection and hospitalization rates than their elders?
• What is the tipping point where economic collapse – which impacts all facets of life, including long-term health – outweighs immediate health concerns in decision-making?
It’s right to ponder these larger questions, but in doing so, Alexandrians mustn’t lose sight of the fact that right here, right now is our most perilous point in this pandemic.
We must stay at home right now as much as possible, even if we’re frustrated and bored. When we have to go out, we need to remember to maintain physical distance from other people – and wear a cloth mask.
Fortunately, there are signs of progress all around.
Alexandria’s local government has worked with Inova Alexandria Hospital to procure more testing kits and to set up expanded sites to test for COVID-19. There’s even a drive-through site in Old Town, where patients who have been pre-screened for the virus can be tested without leaving their cars.
The first wave of small business loans from the Small Business Association’s Paycheck Protection Program should soon begin arriving in Alexandria, with a second block of funding on its way.
And our wonderful community has stepped up in so many ways, from the volunteers who risk their own safety to package meals for others, to the thousands of Alexandrians who donated to Spring2Action and other relief funds, to the fun children’s walks in the Beverley Hills neighbor- hood.
This dark tunnel does have an end. But patience is required, now more than ever, as we journey through it.