Our world has been upended. COVID-19, a phrase straight out of science fiction, has ravaged our lives. The measures we've enacted to prevent the coronavirus from spreading have closed our schools and vacated many of our businesses. We're requested to stay home except for essential activities, understandably for our own good and the good of others, yet we’re left watching the financial markets tumble and crumble our nest eggs. We get anxious as we think of the next round of uncertainties. The patchwork of declarations from city to city make knowing what to do incredibly difficult, and what once were small inconveniences presented by social distancing have turned into major problems involving lives. We need to know the answers to many questions. Am I to shut down my businesses tonight if we sell medicines? Can I stay open if my business primarily involves property and not people? Because I work around a lot of people and I am afraid of catching the virus and spreading it to my family, what can I do if my employer won't close down the business? Why should I close my business if we're strictly observing social distancing guidelines? What plan does the city have for nonessential businesses it shuts down? What remedies are there for my business if I can't generate sales but I must still pay bills? Now that I've been laid off, what am I going to do if I don't have money to live?
Oh my God. I pause to think about what is being asked. This is real. It’s happening to our fellow Texans and it's heartbreaking. I don't know if all the right answers exist because no one has ever imagined we'd be here.
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And it's so difficult to know what to do. We could continue with this hodgepodge of differing standards, randomly shutting down parts of the state along with the country. Or we could have one large order—albeit perhaps unconstitutionally—to quarantine and lockdown everyone in a region for a time like the Chinese did. Or we could adopt the Brit's original strategy of building herd immunity: protect those most vulnerable while the rest of us walk around with mild symptoms or asymptomatically. To that last point, in fact, in an effort to not "let the cure be worse than the problem itself", President Trump said in his March 23 coronavirus briefing that he may urge businesses to reopen after, on March 16, his administration issued a 15-day set of guidelines meant to slow the spread of the virus. He later said he wants us up and running by Easter. If that happens, will state and local governments comply? Will some people interpret that the virus is not as bad as once thought? If it was only days ago the risk of virus transmissibility at businesses was severe, how many of us will want to go back, and could those renewed interactions eventually endanger the rest of us that choose to stay away?
Not only is the messaging we receive from our leaders confusing, the information we receive about the virus is constantly changing. Though air and surfaces are not thought to be the primary mechanisms for transmission, in a laboratory or under ideal conditions, the virus can survive in the air for hours and on surfaces for even longer. First we were told it could survive nine days on surfaces; then three; now, as of March 23, the virus has been found to survive for 17 days on surfaces. It’s impossible to remember what I touched 17 minutes ago—17 days are you kidding me! The novelty of this virus makes the latest information we’ve learned obsolete time and again. Research can provide precise answers, though at a sluggish pace compared to the movement of this scourge.
All this obviously has an effect on what FWHR will do. As the world has changed, we, too, must adapt with a different set of programming, one that suits your needs now from both legal and societal perspectives. We’ve built a COVID-19 page that acts as a hub for the many resources you can use to navigate the roads ahead. Part of the resources involve a place where you can ask questions and receive advice to influence your next steps. I’m proud of our team that has so swiftly put these resources together. They continue to stay abreast of all the changes to help us though these challenging times.
This new age is bizarre and scary. Yet despite the insidiousness of this virus, and despite the little attention given to those infected who are either asymptomatic or who have recovered fully, it may serve us well to remember that we Americans can recover as other countries have. As the virus spreads and we conduct more testing, we will see the numbers of infected people rise. It will take more success stories to assuage our fears and elevate our confidences. More celebrities, like Tom Hanks, Rita Wilson, Idris Elba, and Daniel Dae Kim, need to lend us their voices of victory over the virus. Indeed, all of us should speak of our triumphs to improve our spirits. None of us want to get sick, but hope remains if we do.
No one has all the answers because we're figuring it out as we go, but there's something I heard on the PBS Newshour that I'd like you to remember. David Brooks, columnist for the New York Times, had studied another devastating pandemic in history, the 1918 Spanish flu. Despite the millions of infections and deaths across the globe, people survived. Yet, Brooks says, there was a lot of bad behavior during those dark days. As time progressed and the pandemic worsened, people, separated by distance for their own good, began distrusting one another. Distance can foster ill-will and destroy social trust, which is understandable if we must assume that everyone else is sick. We recognize that fear—its innate, its reasonable. But when the Spanish flu ended, people felt ashamed of their selfish behavior. As we approach a similar threshold of division in 2020, the lesson for us today is that same bad behavior can happen again. It’s important for all of us to at least try to maintain compassion and decency toward one another. Much like the continuous balance between freedom and security, we are now faced with the choice of balancing trust with safety. We will all be tested. Be well.