Watching my story come true
I wrote my pandemic novel Eclipsed in 2017, two years before Covid-19. While I was writing, I tried to imagine what the US would be like in the midst of a long, devastating epidemic. A world where it was normal to wear face masks. A world where schools, libraries, and museums were closed. A world where families could be forced into quarantine, where neighbors would shun anyone who might be carrying the infection.
It’s been chilling to see so much of it come true.
For me, Covid-19 has left some important lessons for our society going forward:
It’s time to divorce health care from employment. To keep illness in check and the economy strong, we need medical care for everyone, rich or poor, employed or homeless. This is especially true during high unemployment like we now have, and in an economy where gig jobs are the norm. Whether through a national health provider system or national health insurance, we need to be sure everyone who is ill or hurting gets care.
Telework and remote learning are here to stay. That means that everyone, everywhere should have free access to the internet.
Remote learning will become a permanent part of our education system. A strong national on-line curriculum should be made available to every student. There are lots of potential benefits: students could proceed at their own pace and repeat lessons when necessary, lessons could be offered in multiple languages, learning can continue wherever the student happens to be. On-line teachers could be alerted to students falling behind and offer targeted assistance. In-person classes could be focused on early childhood and primary grades, special needs students, and specialized classes like labs. This need not reduce innovation in education—in every subject and every grade there is room for creativity, whether the lessons occur in the classroom, over the internet, or outdoors.
This crisis has pointed to glaring vulnerabilities in the supply chain. It’s time to get serious about developing our own manufacturing capabilities and about recycling those electronics.
With unemployment high, now is the time for government-led programs building infrastructure and improving the environment.
Basic research matters. We’ve let our basic science capabilities slide, so we were poorly positioned to respond quickly to a novel threat. Our country needs to make use of its ingenuity and drive to understand our world better and respond more quickly to the next surprise nature throws at us.
Eclipsed was inspired not by an epidemic, but by a treatment: the potential for harnessing benign viruses to fight antibiotic-resistant infections. Let’s all stay focused on new ways to solve the problems we’re bound to see in the future.
I wish you all good health and strength in these trying times.