COVID-19… for goodness sake

There has been plenty since mid-March to be nervous and upset about, but leave it to LEO to take the counter view.

For our Health and Wellness Issue, I am going to explore how the coronavirus has improved at least some aspects of our health and wellness and maybe wrought changes in society that will better life for everyone, even if it has been forced upon us in the worst imaginable way.

To be certain, in no way do I want to minimize the pain and hardships of those being impacted by COVID-19 —  all of us. Nor do I want to sound like Donald Trump, who is devoid of empathy and oblivious to the millions of people suffering and dying. But, an honest assessment of this global health crisis has to recognize the positives, even if they cannot offset the negatives.

Simple things can make a big difference. For instance, no more handshaking!

Honestly, shaking hands with total strangers is a strange tradition.

Since we’re all looking for “the new normal” — whatever that is — we need to ensure these and other positive changes are made permanent.

Others include: By and large, we are paying more attention to health experts and scientists, who are the real leaders, not the politicians. This is perhaps the lowest hurdle we’ve had to clear, but the conronavirus may have killed the age of alternative facts and the questioning of science.

While the quarantine shut down of much of the world’s economy has been horrible, it also seems to have improved life for some wildlife — cleaner waters for fish in Venice canals, swans in Milan and dolphins in Southern Italy. 

Before-and-after pictures show air pollution evaporating over major cities and industrialized countries, such as China, India and parts of the U.S. — and it is quantifiably confirmed by NASA satellites. Global carbon emissions are down 17%.

What about the things more within our control, locally and personally?

Social distancing: This is the adult version of practicing what kids are taught in school, “Respect others’ personal space.” Six feet may seem like a lot around friends and family, but there’s really no reason to be breathing down each others’ necks in line at the grocery or Subway.

Healthier, less-expensive eating habits: Going out for food and drinks is core to LEO’s ethos, and bars and restaurants have been tragically devastated by the forced shutdown. Yet, it’s also forced many (present company in particular) to eat healthier food at home more often.

More exercise: The interrupted work routine has allowed people more time to exercise and be outside. On a nice day, parks are flooded with more walkers and bikers. The increase in foot and bike traffic through Louisville’s parks led Mayor Greg Fischer to close the parks to automobiles, turning the park roads into expanded paths.

This should be permanent.

COVID-19 forced many to recognize: Parks are not made for cars.

The positive changes go far beyond physical health.

Voting: Kentucky is going to make mail-in voting an option in the upcoming primary. This isn’t just the right thing to do for public health, voting should be this easy and accessible always, permanently.

Universal income and a livable wage: The number of unemployed is devastating and unsustainable. The government has already been forced to support American’s through a one-time, $1,200 check, the Paycheck Protection Program and unemployment.

It’s clearly not going to be enough. Maybe it’s the first step toward a universal basic income.

Education: Colleges and universities are churning out too many young people with overwhelming debt and credentials that hold dubious long-term value. The transition to remote classes is a temporary fix this semester. The greater, permanent change will be equipping students for the future and without a lifetime of debt.

Empathy: We are all stuck here together. Not only do we depend on each other for our basic needs and well-being, but sometimes we just need each other’s support. We need to appreciate those who wear masks out of concern for others. 

And, we need leaders who are not afraid to be overwhelmed by emotion, not like Donald Trump who says the loss of life is, “Too bad.”

So, maybe if anything sticks to us post-COVID-19 — if that time ever comes — I hope we can make permanent our new larger capacity for empathy. 

And, no more handshaking. •