By Tom Paquin
Nearly twenty years ago, I was sitting in a seminar hall during a class called “Issues in Biotechnology”. The week’s lesson was on pandemics. I had originally taken the class figuring it’d be a relatively easy way to fulfil a science requirement for my major that I could coast through while focusing on college’s many more important activities, but over the course of that day’s seminar, I was at full attention.
I sat, horrified, as the professor described the likelihood that animal-borne diseases would emerge. The prevailing theory at the time was that we’d be struck with an “avian flu”, since in the late nineties several poultry farmers had started to catch diseases from their chickens, though those diseases had not yet mutated to a stage where they could transfer from human to human. This still happens all the time. The pandemic would be an upper respiratory disease, and would have a devastating impact on, in the words of my professor, the elderly and the very young. “It’s not a matter of if,” he said, “It’s a matter of when. I don’t mean to be alarmist, but we should all be prepared.”
It will likely come as no surprise that, for literal years, I was overwhelmed with a dire sense of paranoia that the dark cloud of pandemic was imminent. As I rode the subway, I peered suspiciously at the human petri dishes around me, wondering about the devastation that any one of us could inflict upon our surroundings. In the intervening years, H1N1 came and went, and the spectre of worldwide pandemic seemed like less and less of a threat in the face of science and technology.
2020, though, showed how much worse reality could be than my expectations.
But now, the US has vaccinated half of its population, and the world is following suit (I will note that my western-centric view ignores the persistent and significant challenges that remain globally, but I am hopeful and confident that a unified effort to combat the virus can support with the resources and expertise to overcome those challenges). According to the New York Times, we’re seeing exponential case growth invert into exponential decay, meaning we’re entering a new phase of our relationship with COVID.
I am confident that the state of Global Pandemic will be lifted, hopefully this year. Dr. Fauci thinks we’ll be in a state of normality in the USA by July 4th. But the trendlines all have something in common.
They never reach zero.
And yes—in the years since the “Swine flu panic” H1N1 has sidled itself into the shuffled deck of seasonal flus, and COVID-19 is likely to do something similar. And that is fine, in the long run, as our collective human consciousness makes sense of the new illness, but the fact that we have to live with the virus itself also means that we’ll be living, perhaps in perpetuity, with some of its effects. These effects, the tectonic changes in people’s behavior that we’ve normalized over fourteen months, will invariably impact service. For the next few weeks, we’re going to dissect s a few of the ways that things have changed, and what they mean long-term for service. Here’s a few of the topics we’ll be covering:
- Meeting People Where They Are
- Planning for Perpetual PPE
- Decentralized Dispatch
With more to come as we reach the next, next, next, next normal.
On a personal note, my wife is nine months pregnant, with our daughter set to arrive at virtually any moment. In writing this series, I’ve had an opportunity to reflect on the world that she’s going to be born into. I think that it will ultimately be a better one than the one that we were in when the pandemic began. I will sure be trying to make it better for her in every way that I can.