Posted on: May 6, 2020 at 8:26 pm
Last updated: October 15, 2020 at 3:04 pm

As the death toll continues to rise, businesses and schools remain closed, and families continue to be separated, it seems as though the nightmare that the COVID-19 pandemic has become may never end. The minute social distancing and stay-home orders were put in place, the one question that has been echoing through homes across the world has been “when can we return to normal?”. 

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With millions around the world nearing three months living in lockdown and social isolation, there is a new question beginning to emerge, asking not when can we return to normal, but simply can we return to normal?

Many are saying that our old way of life may no longer exist.

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Coronavirus Cassandra

Laurie Garrett is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, who accurately predicted the impact H.I.V., as well as the emergence and global spread of more contagious pathogens [1]. She has been a fellow at Harvard’s School of Public Health, is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and was consulted on the 2011 movie “Contagion.” 

In her piece, The Coming Plague, she warned that a severe flu pandemic would be catastrophic in the United States, killing millions of people and wreaking havoc on the economy:

“In response, some countries might impose useless but highly disruptive quarantines or close borders and airports, perhaps for months. Such closures would disrupt trade, travel, and productivity. No doubt the world’s stock markets would teeter and perhaps fall precipitously. Aside from economics, the disease would likely directly affect global security, reducing troop strength and capacity for all armed forces, U.N. peacekeeping operations, and police worldwide.” [2]

Garret is now being referred to as a “coronavirus Cassandra”, because of her horrifyingly accurate predictions.

Why Cassandra?

In Greek mythology, Cassandra, the daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecuba, Lords of Troy, was given the gift of foretelling the future by the God Apollo. Upon bestowing the gift, he attempted to sleep with her, but she rejected him. In his anger, he cursed her so that no one would ever believe her prophecies.

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She then warned her family of the downfall of their city, and that they would be tricked by the Greeks with the Trojan Horse, but they did not believe her. Troy was, as she predicted, attacked and destroyed by the Greeks [3].

Today, the name Cassandra is given to people like Garrett, who, along with many others, warn us of tragedies but are not listened to. Garrett has been warning the public about scenarios exactly like the one we’re in now since 1994, starting with her book “The Coming Plague”, followed by more books, speeches, and Ted Talks (one of which you can view below)[1].

Read: Opinion: Why Telling People They Don’t Need Masks Backfired

Garrett’s Predictions

When you ask Laurie Garrett if or when we will return to normal, her predictions are bleak. Remdesivir, merely shortens the recovery time for COVID-19 patients, and she insists we need either a cure or a vaccine. That, however, is a long way off.

“I’ve been telling everybody that my event horizon is about 36 months, and that’s my best-case scenario,” she said [1].

Garrett predicts that instead of one massive outbreak all across America that disappears as quickly as it arrived, the virus will likely continue to present itself in smaller waves across the country.

“It will be micro-waves that shoot up in Des Moines and then in New Orleans and then in Houston and so on, and it’s going to affect how people think about all kinds of things.” [1]

This, she says, will completely change the way we operate. Just like with 9/11, instead of “going back to normal”, we will be forced to create a whole new normal, and it will cause a major shift in how we adapt.

People across the country will think differently about the importance of travel, how they use public transit, whether or not they need face-to-face business meetings, and even whether or not they’ll have their kids go to school out of state.

She also believes that, depending on how things go, this pandemic could change political engagement as well. She explains that if we enter into the second wave of coronavirus infections with the wealthier somehow getting richer off of this pandemic, while the rest of the country is unemployed and unable to meet their basic expenses, there will be a public outcry and potentially massive political disruption. 

“Just as we come out of our holes and see what 25 percent unemployment looks like,” she said, “we may also see what collective rage looks like.” [1]

America: A Model of Sloppiness

It may not come as a shock to you that, at this point, not much can surprise Laurie Garrett. She wasn’t surprised when the virus brought as much devastation as it already has, nor did it throw her off when China attempted to minimize the severity of the situation. She also expected that the response by many countries would be sloppy and sluggish.

She never imagined, however, that the United States would be the world leader in ineffective, uncoordinated, and sloth-like action.

Complacency from the Whitehouse all the way until early March, Trump’s unbridled promotion for unproven or dangerous treatments, his refusal to enact federal guidance for state responses, and the lack of a detailed, long-range strategy for how to contain the virus has left tens of thousands of American citizens dead, made millions more sick, and cost thousands of people their jobs.

A country that should be a global leader in crisis response has now become the poster child for “how not to handle a public health crisis”.

While Trump, in Garrett’s words, has been “the most incompetent, foolhardy buffoon imaginable,” the problems we are currently experiencing did not begin with his administration. In her opinion, America’s historic refusal to sufficiently invest in public health has been its downfall. 

Instead of working to keep our air and water safe for everyone, and designing policies and systems for quickly detecting outbreaks so they can be contained and lives can be spared, most of the investments has gone to areas that bring more international recognition, like finding new ways to treat heart disease or cancer.

According to Garrett, what America needs is not rigorous testing, because there will never be enough tests available to spot-test anyone who enters into a crowd. Instead, we rigorously-designed studies that inform us on the prevalence and deadliness of infections so that governors and mayors can make informed decisions about the rules for social distancing, and reopen in a way that is sensible and suitable for their situation.

Finally, she says America needs a government that supports and listens to its prominent experts, like Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx, instead of muzzling them for the sake of its ego.

“I can sit here with you for three hours listing…what good leadership would look like and how many more lives would be saved if we followed that path, and it’s just incredibly upsetting,” Garrett said. “I feel like I’m just coming out of maybe three weeks of being in a funk because of the profound disappointment that there’s not a whisper of it.”  [1]

Keep Reading: Opinion: Why Fearing the Coronavirus Should be the Least of Your Worries

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Brittany Hambleton
Team Writer
Brittany is a freelance writer and editor with a Bachelor of Science in Foods and Nutrition and a writer’s certificate from the University of Western Ontario. She enjoyed a stint as a personal trainer and is an avid runner. Brittany loves to combine running and traveling, and has run numerous races across North America and Europe. She also loves chocolate more than anything else… the darker, the better!

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