Musings on the pause, reopening, and the children

From NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo’s daily press conference, May 5, 2020.

Let’s get one thing clear, right off the bat: I’m not a scientist, or a doctor, or a politician, or anything even resembling a smarty pants. I’m a writer, artist, and performer who tries to help people push past fear to embrace their creativity. In the grand scheme of the universe, I’m just a dreamer with a pen and a paintbrush who wants us all to get along.

So keep that in mind as you continue reading – and if you can’t, if you’re already preparing to debate anything related to the current pandemic, it’s OK to  stop reading right now and go find something else to do.

Still with me? OK,  here goes.

For the last few months, as my life has been upended by the pandemic and related shut down (or as I called it The Pause),  I’ve been focusing on the mantra “pause, not panic” because I realized early on how easy it would be to get crushed by the weight of fear and anxiety. I watched the daily press conferences here in NYS, researched where I could, and tried to balance the intake of information with avoidance of charged sound bites.

I took precautions. I stayed home. I still got sick. Not seriously sick, but shortness of breath, cough, exhaustion. There’s no way to know if it was Covid (no testing for me; I didn’t meet the criteria because I never had a fever). But still, I was sick, and it was scary.

So it’s not unexpected that I’d be nervous as we’re gearing up for reopening. And here’s the question that’s been nagging at me: What don’t we know?

I can handle information. Give me the facts, I’ll take stock of my options, and I’ll figure out what to do next. But the unknown stirs my anxiety.

What don’t we know?

For most of the last few months, for example, it’s been reported that children have been spared the dangers of this virus. Then, last week, news surfaced that children are developing a serious, rare illness akin to Kawasaki disease or toxic shock syndrome, and that this may be related to Covid.

In today’s daily press conference, Governor Andrew Cuomo reported that there are currently 102 confirmed cases of this rare illness in NYS children; 60% of these children have tested positive for the virus; 40% tested positive for antibodies; 14% tested positive for both. It’s believed that these children may have been exposed to the virus weeks before they developed these new symptoms – meaning that what we thought we knew a month ago may be completely wrong.

Other than the fact that these children are severely ill (as if that isn’t enough), why should this news matter as we plan to reopen? Because at every turn this virus has thrown curve ball after curve ball – and, if you’ve been paying attention, the trend of this new illness in children is starting to look a lot like the trend of early Covid cases:

March – LiveScience reports on a study published in the journal Pediatrics that shows that not all children are spared from the illness, and warns of severe and critical symptoms being seen in children in China.

May 5 – The Guardian reports that there are 15 cases of a rare Covid-related illness in children in NYS.

May 7 – the first child in NYS dies from this new illness

May 9 – 73 confirmed cases of this illness in NYS are reported.

May 10 – 85 confirmed cases in NYS, with three confirmed deaths

May 11 – 93 cases in NYS

May 12 – 100 cases in NYS

May 13 – 102 cases in NYS

Did you catch that? Over the course of eight days, the number of confirmed cases in NYS alone jumped from 15 to 102. How long until the daily press conferences include a bar graph of confirmed cases and deaths in children? [update May 14: CBS Morning News reported that  “more than 180 cases” of what is being referred to as pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome “have been reported in 17 states and Washington, DC”. ]

This is the kind of  What don’t we know? that causes me concern as we plan to reopen.

Governor Cuomo said today that, of these cases, 71% required admission to the ICU; 19% required intubation, and 43% of these cases remain hospitalized.

More than 50% of these are children are aged 5 to 14. Researchers are now tracing back to see if earlier cases of illness and death in children may be Covid related, since doctors weren’t looking for these rare symptoms.

I can’t speak to the rest of the country but here in NYS, progress to reopen may be slow, but it’s also methodical, and the metrics for reopening are clear, specific, and uniform across the state.  My personal “pause not panic” mantra has been bolstered by the message I’ve been hearing from the leader of the state since this all started: We know what we know, we’re aware that we don’t know everything, and we proceed with the interests of the people, not the politics, at the heart of every decision.

Would everyone like things to go back to the old normal tomorrow? Of course. But yesterday’s reality is long gone, friends. Gone, the way reality was gone when Pearl Harbor was attacked, or when the Spanish flu swept across the humanity, or polio (figuratively and literally) crippled children. Gone, the way the Great Depression changed an entire generation, the way 9/11 changed this one.

You get the picture. Shit happens and humans respond – that is pretty much the story of life – and then together we figure out how to keep moving ahead to create our new normal. You can’t have absolute solutions when you don’t even know what the problems are. All we know is what we’ve seen; we have no clue what’s around the corner – or how many corners there even are. Moving forward with caution is not the same as being rooted in place with fear.

So if you’re upset that your state/federal government isn’t moving fast enough to reopen, or you’re convinced that this virus is nothing more than a “new flu”, it might be worth taking a step back and trying to see the whole picture as it emerges piece by piece, recognizing that it’s not about the “me” any more (not that it ever really was, but that’s a whole other discussion). Let’s focus on the “we” and try to work together.

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