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Venturing into unknown territory

If you are reading this, somewhere in your lineage were ancestors who ventured out to unknown territories in search of new lands to settle in and raise families. This is still occurring across the globe. At our borders are individuals looking for asylum from the plights of their countries. We hear of boats sinking in the Mediterranean full of refugees escaping to a new but uncertain future.

Many of our ancestors paid the ultimate price as they ventured into uncertainty. These times are not much different. Due to the ease of global travel and the crowds in mass transit, the world has stopped … for the moment. While it is apparent that there are pockets of sheer terror and mayhem from this virus, there are other areas of relative calm. To some it makes no sense to shut down an entire country when the problem doesn’t seem to be here. Thank technology for that. A virus can and will hitch a ride anywhere.

But is this sustainable, you might ask? The answer is obviously “NO.”

The reality is that the ease of transmission and virulence of the virus allow it to easily overwhelm our medical facilities. So how do we move forward?

The answer is always uncertain. It really depends on our ability to adapt and change. This virus will need to infect approximately 70% of the population for herd immunity to be effective at slowing transmission. That can also be achieved with a vaccine. The problem is time.

Einstein said, “We live in the past, the present and the future.” We learn from past experience, apply to the present conditions and mentally simulate the future effect of our decision. It’s easy to mentally simulate an outcome that you like. In this information age of available information, we hear those things that we agree with and discount those things we disagree with. As if this confirmation bias isn’t enough, we are bombarded with so much information, we tend to believe the last thing we heard. Add misinformation to this confirmation bias and availability bias, and hopefully you will begin to see how our different beliefs frame our future picture.

One possible prediction is that it will take two years for this virus to affect enough people to become manageable. Anything less than that could result in pockets of medical system failure, much like what was about to happen in New York. New York City was on the brink of system failure. During that two years, some of us will die. It can be the price of venturing into uncertainty. If we protect the vulnerable by maintaining measures to prevent the spread, we may be able to achieve herd immunity without bringing our medical systems to the brink of failure. You can’t see a virus. If we continue to wear masks when we are close to people, stay home if we are sick, wash and disinfect our lives, we may be able to start our economy and live our new normal lives. We can blame our government, entertain conspiracy theories and focus only on ourselves, but that won’t help the goal of returning to normal. We have to continue to treat this as though we are infected, and protect everyone from us. That means a mask. If we can agree to learn that behavior, I predict two years from now will be a brighter future. If our medical system fails, that will cause a lion’s share of cascading events that will make the virus look like a lamb. Recovery from system failure is not an outcome we can afford.

Ready to venture into new normal? You won’t see the virus coming. Just pretend it is already here in our community.

William Martin lives in Saranac Lake.

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