By Elaine Ayala Commentary
Traffic has picked up significantly since San Antonians first began staying home to slow down COVID-19 infections.
The major west-east thoroughfare on which I live leads downtown, and a lot of people are headed that way, no doubt to get on one of the city’s major highways.
They’re whizzing by with purpose, as if headed to important meetings, as if we’re not still in a pandemic without a vaccine or effective treatments.
Barren city streets once reflected our fears. But fear is fickle and can be overridden by a false sense of security.
We’ve wiggled ourselves out of fear. A University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll this week found most Texans think COVID-19 will be contained in a few months.
You probably think Fiesta is going to happen in November.
So, you’ve started to feel that perhaps we overreacted as a nation by staying home, wearing masks in public and washing our hands and wiping surfaces umpteen times a day.
You may see social distancing as no longer necessary, so we can restart the economy and go back to work, restaurants and bars.
Researchers, however, say San Antonio has yet to reach its peak of COVID-19 cases. That’s expected within the next three weeks.
You likely don’t know anyone who has been sick or has died. You’re lucky. You don’t know Gilbert Casillas, a San Antonian who has been desperately trying to get off a ventilator. He worked at a funeral home before getting terribly sick, before funerals were drastically changed.
You may not know someone who works at an essential business and must interact with the public, like a doctor, nurse, a police officer or grocery-store clerk.
You’re probably going stir crazy and have realized teaching should be left to professionals.
So, you’ve gotten in your car.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott doesn’t altogether disapprove. He eased restrictions on some retailers Friday allowing them to offer curbside pickup. He plans to recommend more loosening of constraints next week.
The rest of us are fearful that you’re not scared anymore.
Anita Kurian, assistant director of Metro Health, where she oversees its communicable disease division, said Bexar County hasn’t experienced a peak in infections yet.
Staying home has slowed the acceleration of cases, staggering their number over a longer span of time so as to not overwhelm hospitals.
That’s what flattening the curve means, Kurian said. Some of us have mistaken the now-common graphic as a reflection of COVID-19 death rates. It’s not.
The graph’s vertical line reflects the number of people seeking treatment. The X or horizontal line tracks the time period from the first infection. Together the lines reflect the ability of the healthcare system to treat people.
“What we are doing is reducing the number of future cases that are active at any given time, which gives the medical system time to prepare without getting overwhelmed,” Kurian said.
Without collective actions, such as stay-at-home restrictions and social distancing recommendations, the curve would be higher.
That would mean the healthcare system can’t manage, and that’s why health officials are worried you’re getting in your car too soon and too often and going places you may not need to go.
Abbott’s announcement next week is likely to preempt the work of local panels established by the mayor and county judge to plan how Bexar County should proceed to open up the economy.
Without massive testing and contact tracing, opening too much too soon is a risk. Until a vaccine is available, it’s all a risk.
Health officials tell us COVID-19 is the new normal.
It will make working from home normal, at least for some of us, and change the architecture of the workplace.
It will require continued tests that we don’t yet have in large quantities, along with swabs and collection tubes. They’re in short supply, too.
The COVID-19 normal will change the way we dine out, the way we are educated, and it’s likely to change Fiesta, whenever it happens again.
The COVID-19 hurricane hasn’t landed. It’s several weeks away. So, head out to get what you need to survive it, then brace for it.
After that is when government officials should begin to discuss when and how much to open up again.