Ups and Downs - Spring 2020

 

Steve Cain
Spring, 2020

It’s still kind of hard to believe how quickly and completely the world has changed, harder still that this change has all occurred in the space of less than two months. We’d been hearing about the mysterious coronavirus that first appeared in Wuhan since the beginning of the year. But, like a lot of news these days, it sounded like something far away and abstract – somebody else’s problem – or so we thought.

Around February, it was becoming clearer that the virus was spreading. Chicago was actually the first place in this country we knew for sure it landed – an individual who had just been in Wuhan and was now returning to Chicago. By all accounts, this person was isolated, treated, recovered, and that was the end of that.

But not really. Shortly after case number one, things started to heat up in Seattle and the reality of coronavirus in the United States could no longer be denied. Even then, we did not fully comprehend what it meant or what the full impact of this disease would bring in its wake.

I was in Mexico for vacation during the second week of March. I have had a few “before and after” experiences in my life. My Mexican vacation was one of them. When I went there, most people still did not think twice about getting on a plane, going out to eat, or hanging out with friends. I couldn’t have imagined that all of those activities would soon be banned, or too risky to contemplate.

It was during this second week of March that the full reality of what was happening finally started to dawn on me, and to others who were paying attention. All during my vacation, we kept hearing story after story of the rapid spread of the virus and dramatic measures being taken to slow it down. I flew back to a strangely quiet O’Hare on March 16th. I still did not fully grasp how different my life was about to become.

Even after I got back, I was still commuting to work after my company was recommending employees work from home. A few days later, Governor Pritzker announced his decision to require non-essential workers to shelter in place and work from home if possible. I remember thinking this all seemed like such an over-reaction. I still didn’t get it.

But now the seriousness of the situation was becoming so apparent that even I could no longer ignore it. First it was the restaurant and bar closures. Immediately after, it was the sudden and absolutely unprecedented spike in jobless claims that rose from a few hundred thousand per week into the millions. And not for just for one week, but week after week as the economy quickly went into cardiac arrest, the stock market collapsed and unemployment soared through the roof to Depression-era levels.

Worse was on its way, but this time, it was not in distant Wuhan but in relatively proximate New York. The epicenter had shifted firmly to the Big Apple and the toll on the nation’s largest and most important city was impossible to ignore. All we could do was sit helplessly by, day after day as infection rates rose and the body count mounted.

Finally, and inevitably, COVID-19 was everywhere. It was in Chicago, it was all over Illinois and in every state in the country, in big cities, suburbs, small towns and rural areas. There was no escape. It had crept into every corner of the globe and it kept growing.

Through all of this, I have been aware of my good fortune and privilege. I am one of the lucky ones who can work from home. That is to say, I still have a job, not to mention the resources to weather some significant part of the difficulties that lie ahead. I’m getting older, but my health is good and, knock on wood, I’ve had no indication of exposure to, or complications from, the virus.

This is difficult for us all. But let’s be honest. What is, for me, a scary time and an inconvenience is, for many others, an epic disaster with real potential for life-threatening consequences. This is no time to indulge in self-pity or spread conspiracy theories. This is a time to listen to the experts, stay home if you are able, and help slow the spread of this disease. Our first priority must be to save lives and keep the health care system from getting overloaded, as has already happened in New York.

We need to all do our part. We need to take this with the seriousness it deserves. I am late to learn this lesson. But not too late to make a difference.

Steve Cain is Secretary of RPBG. He writes articles and compiles content for our quarterly newsletter. The opinions expressed in this column are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of RPBG and its Members.