Even if a cure for the coronavirus were found immediately, it would still be the story of the year and probably the story of the decade. In addition to the terrible suffering and toll on human lives, trillions of dollars have been lost in the markets in the U.S. and abroad, and trillions more in lost business. Add to this the emergency costs of caring for those who have become ill and the preventative measures that need to be taken, and the impact of these will hurt businesses for months, if not years.
Clearly, this crisis has changed our lives in important ways. However, a growing number of our day-to-day habits and mannerisms - little things - are now coming under scrutiny, and health officials are urging us to make changes there too.
One of those little things is shaking hands, a custom men around the world have practiced for centuries, if not millennia. Greeting relatives and friends with a handshake has virtually become a ritual, and now we are told to avoid that because it could spread the coronavirus.
We are also being told not to touch our faces. Probably most of us would be surprised by the number of times we rub our eyes, scratch our noses, and wipe our mouths every day without thinking about it. This, too, has now become a no-no, because if the virus is on our hands, it will have easy entry points for the coronavirus to infect us. An email circulated in the Five Towns on Purim asked everyone to refrain from kissing siddurim and sifrei Torah with their mouths.
Learning From Others
One way people are trying to cope with this virus is by observing the experiences of those infected in other countries and learning important lessons from them. Among those lessons is the importance of having emergency supplies of food and water.
Some weeks ago, a horrible video made in China showed people who were suspected of being infected locked into their homes by police - they were begging to come out and for help but did not get any. Those who had emergency supplies stood a better chance of surviving than those with bare cupboards. A similar situation developed in Italy, where shelves in stores were emptied and the entire country quarantined.
Could this horrific situation repeat itself here? As frightening a prospect as this is, people everywhere have the same needs and the same survival instincts. In other words, prudence dictates having emergency rations and keeping cash at hand, too, as no knows what this crisis will lead to.
These days, most of us work with and near other people, but now politicians and health officials are urging us to avoid crowds to the greatest extent possible. This means dispensing with many of the simple joys and long-standing routines we’ve been accustomed to.
For example, many people have stopped patronizing restaurants. Political rallies, concerts, conferences, and festivals are being postponed or cancelled, and so are professional and college sporting events; the NBA has cancelled the rest of the season and Major League Baseball suspended the rest of spring training, meaning opening games will be delayed for at least two weeks.
Crowds at airports and major hotels are a shadow of their former selves. People have been advised to remain at least three to six feet away from other people. Israel has banned gatherings of more than 100 people and has closed all schools and universities.
The entertainment industry, travel, lodging, oil, restaurants, import-export, shipping, retail, and high-tech, have taken it on the chin. Industry giants like Apple and Walmart are deeply concerned about getting new supplies from China. The banking industry, too, has lost a great deal. And so have governments, in the form of lost revenues and emergency expenses, although the exact toll from those won’t be known for some time.
Most people still take a train or bus to work, and while avoiding this is not always possible, telecommuting is clearly becoming more common. Both Amazon and Google have asked their employees in New York and New Jersey to work from home when possible, and so have many other companies.
In fact, many people wish they didn’t have to commute to work, because it’s expensive, tiring, and time-consuming, and it appears the coronavirus will help make their dreams come true. Moreover, Mayor de Blasio said a quarantine is a “possibility” in New York City, and according to one report, the city is considering closing all subways. If put into effect, these policies would give a big boost to telecommuting.
Home schooling is another change we may see implemented if quarantines are imposed. While cities usually frown on this idea, families who are deeply concerned about the quality of education at some public schools as well as the curriculum presented to young children would welcome this development. A growing number of schools and colleges have already closed as precautionary measures. Online shopping could also get a boost as people try to avoid crowds - either because they want to or because they have to.
Wearing a face mask while walking on streets, once limited to old westerns, is becoming an increasingly common. So is using Clorox wipes to clean one’s hands and countertops. Some physicians even advise spraying mail and packages with a Clorox solution as a safety measure, and this could get a lot more attention if the virus continues to spread. There is even a report that Tax Day will be postponed.
While our first concerns are for ourselves and our families, there are other important things we need to think about. For example, how will the many people who have suffered terrible losses in the market and in business be able to cope? How will yeshivas and tzedakas who depend on tuition and contributions manage to keep their doors open? Israel’s $9 billion annual trade with China is on hold, and their tourism industry, which is very important to their economy, has ground to a halt. How will they get by?
At some point the dust will finally settle on this crisis, and when it does, the world could look a lot different than it does now - but that won’t necessarily be all bad. As fewer people attend concerts and movies there may be a return to learning, reading, and walking. In the event of a quarantine, we’ll be able to spend more time with family and friends. And rather than trying to impress others with fancy homes and lavish parties, we once again will enjoy life’s simple pleasures.
The coronavirus is a painful slap, and in the process of trying to cope with it, we’ll be reminded not to take anything for granted, whether that be health, family, business, or daily routines.
Just maybe, the pain and fear the world is experiencing will shock society into making an even bigger change: bringing religion back into our lives. Far-fetched as this may seem, it could happen.
Sources: cnbc.com; dailymail.co.uk;