“I ate 11 times and took 5 naps and it's still today.” So goes the meme about getting through these very long days. How do we get out of today?
We are clearly in uncharted waters. The coronavirus has turned the entire world upside down. The death and sickness tolls still mount. Fear and uncertainty intensify. Students are confined to learning from home, businesses are shuttered — many will never reopen, and people are losing their livelihoods.
Indeed, I have named this period we are in Day 1. As the struggle to survive Day 1 intensifies, and the news moves from grim to grimmer, we wonder for how long? Who will endure? And how do we eventually get back to a saner and less deadly new normal, a more benign new normal, or what I call Day 2?
Day 2 will dawn as a new era for all of us. This will be an era that reflects the damages, scars and lessons of this pandemic. We hopefully will have figured out a way to control the virus and keep people healthy. This is an experience that will structure an entirely new mindset about how we live and what we value. A new generation — already dubbed Generation C — will emerge. Presumably we will be stronger and better — at least that is the hackneyed trope that we find ourselves uttering.
While it is hard to predict when we might formally enter into Day 2, the major pre-conditions would likely be a flattening of the curve, a formal end to social distancing, and the resumption of group events (classes, concerts, sporting events, celebratory events like weddings, convocations, graduations). We would likely see a burst in social and economic activity, the opening of closed parks, new and old businesses popping up, an expansion of the gig economy, and a movement out of the recession that we are now in. There will also be a dramatic expansion in tele-x, be it health or education.
But when this recovery begins is anybody’s guess. That it begins as soon as possible is everybody’s preoccupation. Much will depend on the resilience of the community in question and its specific demographic and geographic assets.
Here in South Florida, we pride ourselves on both our demography and our geography. We value our multiculturalism, our global edginess, and our deep and intimate connections to the peoples and countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. You’ve heard the question: why are there so many people of Hispanic origin in Miami? Because it’s the closest Latin American city to the United States.
The unique interdependence between us and our Latin American and Caribbean neighbors has traditionally been a source of social, cultural and financial dynamism. Hemispheric trade, commerce, and tourism anchor South Florida’s airports and seaports. Thousands of jobs in South Florida depend upon the vibrancy of the market in the countries of the region. Undeniably, there is an intimacy and absence of boundaries in our inter-American relations that has normally been catalyzing and dynamic. Intensified migration, which we can predict, will only tighten our connections.
Which brings us to Day 2. Can we get to Day 2 here in South Florida if most, if not all, of Latin American and Caribbean countries are still in Day 1?
Day 1 is just dawning in Latin America and the Caribbean. By the middle part of this past week, nearly 200,000 confirmed cases were reported for the region, a doubling from just five days before. Brazil leads the region in deaths and there have been alarming reports coming out of Ecuador and southern Mexico. Only Colombia, El Salvador, Panama, and Argentina seem to have taken some measures to slow down the spread.
FIU’s senior researcher on public health in Latin America — Carlos Espinal — has identified a litany of challenges related to the region’s management of COVID-19: tardy responses in most countries, insufficient efforts to track, isolate and communicate, low testing and high costs for diagnostic kits, the closing of all borders, and an insufficient health care infrastructure.
The result? Most countries are now slowly moving to community transmission. Their Day 1 is just beginning. Given inherent infrastructural weaknesses and high morbidity in many countries of the region, it is likely that Latin America and the Caribbean will have a prolonged Day 1.
A prolonged Day 1? In other words, the lack of testing, the inadequacy of supplies and hospitals (and ventilators), the minimalist public education, and the rampant poverty will likely keep our hemispheric neighbors subject to the ravages of the disease for months to come, long after we are, at least temporarily, preparing to transition to Day 2 here in South Florida.
Short of barring Latin American and Caribbean travelers to Florida (no South Beach, no Disney, no shopping), it will be difficult to effect a successful transition in Miami from Day 1 to Day 2 given our close familial ties with our neighbors to the south. Stated another way: we can’t get into Day 2 unless Latin America and the Caribbean get out of Day 1.
That means we have got to assist international agencies working on the region (USAID, Southcom, PAHO) in their efforts to help lower the curve and end social distancing in Latin America and the Caribbean. Unless we make significant progress, we and the region are going to have even longer days than the meme described in the opening paragraph depicts.
“Endless Day 1s ahead? A scenario no one wants, for sure ... the world of Day 2 will require a form of empathetic and data informed leadership and community mindedness. Day 2 is a place that we will have to navigate the deployment of exponential technologies with big heartedness. We must use hope to drive out fear and uncertainty, but let's inform our hope with realistic understanding about what our challenges are, then let's get on them. That’s who we are — let's go!”
In the Panther spirit,
Mark B. Rosenberg