One on One: Good things from the pandemic?

Published 6:03 am Wednesday, April 8, 2020

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By D.G. Martin

I wish it hadn’t happened.

Already, the losses have been jarring. And there is much more to come.

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But, as with other catastrophes, such as floods, hurricanes, fires, 9/11, recessions, depressions, world wars and the Cold War, there are some pluses.

The first plus, perhaps, is that it could be worse, much worse. What if the Covid-19 Novel Coronavirus had not only been fast-moving and communicable but also Ebola-like deadly?

Such a disease could wipe out the human race.

It passed us by this time. That is one plus.

We are warned about the dangers, and foolishness, of being unprepared. We have time to prepare and the motivation to devote resources to preparation.

But, as Bill Gates pointed out in a TED video in 2015, the Ebola epidemic gave us a good warning and should have led to a degree of preparedness to face the current pandemic.

Gates explained that Ebola did not spread through the air and that it did not work its way into urban areas. “Next time we might not be so lucky,” he said.

“There are things that would make it ten times worse,” he continued, pointing out how air travel could contribute to the rapid spread of the disease.

But Gates was optimistic. He pointed out that we could build good systems to respond to a new virus with tools such as the cell phone, advances from directed scientific research and development, coordination with and mobilization of the military, establishment of a medical reserve corps, and practicing exercises such as simulation-germ games.

However, we did not demand that our nation’s leaders follow Gates’ advice. Instead, we stood by while our leaders dismantled some of the limited capabilities we had developed.

We are paying the price now, economically and health wise for those decisions.

So let’s remember this positive: the current pandemic, as bad as it is, gives us another opportunity to prepare for the even worse one to come.

View Gates’ 2015 TED talk at or Google “The next outbreak? We’re not ready.

Putting aside these challenges, what other pluses has the virus brought?

Although we may not like being confined at home, we are learning to manage. For the first time, I learned the magic of participating in virtual meetings. The Chapel Hill East Rotary Club is using Zoom for its meetings. The group is mostly senior men and women who are not naturally high tech people. But more than 40 of them showed up for a virtual meeting last week. It was a little rough, but it worked to share information and connect to friends.

This success has me thinking that every now and then you and other readers could gather virtually to share information, challenge views and build connections. If that works, I could try to have virtual meetings with authors who appear UNC-TV’s North Carolina Bookwatch. It would give others opportunities to ask authors questions that the program’s host failed to raise.

More importantly, the pandemic and the availability of programs such as Zoom has opened the door to more working from home. Most of us will be happy to get back to our regular places, but some others are finding they can be effective, even more effective, operating remotely.

The closing of schools has prompted a rush to find ways to deliver effective classroom-like experiences. Most students and parents will be glad for schools to open again. In the meantime, however, the forced development of good virtual educational tools will enrich the experiences of many students long after the pandemic has been tamed. For example, see this free site recommended by N. C. Superintendant of Public Instruction Mark Johnson:

Also on the positive side, the pandemic has forced us to become closer to our families, unless, as my wife says, “I kill him first.”

D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” Sundays at 3:30 p.m. and Tuesdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. The program also airs on the North Carolina Channel Tuesdays at 8 p.m. and other times.