Holly Richardson: In a world of pandemics and paradoxes

(Jeff Chiu AP file photo) In this April 9 photo, Lila Nelson watches as her son, Rise University Preparatory sixth-grader Jayden Amacker, watches an online class in his room at their home in San Francisco. Teachers across the country report their attempts at distance learning induced by the pandemic are failing to reach large numbers of students. Hundreds of thousands of students are still without computers or home internet access.

Here we are on day 3 million and something of the COVID-19 pandemic and the world is full of paradoxes. Like how it feels like 3 million days but it hasn’t even been six weeks since the first case of COVID-19 was announced in Utah (March 6), barely over a month since President Trump declared a national emergency (March 13), and just a month since an earthquake rattled Utah (March 18). Now, hundreds of aftershocks later, we are still getting our legs underneath us.

There is more physical separation but, in many ways, an increase in connection. More video calls. More checking in with friends and family. More hand-written letters. More deliberateness in our efforts to reach out now that we are not able to casually connect.

We have the seeming paradox of “more time,” but less productivity. All of those things you dreamed about doing if only you didn’t have to (fill-in-the-blank) commute/take care of church assignments/do homework and then it turns out it’s harder to get moving in the mornings, harder to stay motivated and now you get to help kids do homework during “crisis schooling.” (Which is far different than homeschooling, by the way).

There is more exhaustion and brain fog and paradoxically, more creativity. Who would have thought you could 3-D print face masks? Or do math on a white board outside a window? Or the many inventive ways to use Tik Tok? And the coronavirus memes — an unending source of laughter.

There is more fear about an uncertain future, but the paradox is that the future is uncertain anyway. We plan, we prepare and then we pivot as needed. Some of us may pivot more slowly, some less gracefully, but we do pivot.

There is more adaptation to a “new normal” and paradoxically, some insistence that we don’t need — or don’t want — a new normal. Humans are creatures of habit. We like comfortable and familiar. But we are also flexible and resilient. Work from home? Sure! Online learning? You bet. We will probably even figure out that getting dressed in “real” clothes every day helps us feel better.

There is more generosity and kindness but also more anger and vitriol. More terror and more tedium. More faith and more fear. More frustration and more flexibility. More physical safety and less economic safety. More patience and less patience. More grace and more judgment. Grief and gratitude.

We are seeing the “prevention paradox” play out in real time. A term first coined by Geoffrey Rose, an epidemiologist, the prevention paradox occurs when society enacts a policy that benefits the whole (social distancing) while potential benefits to one specific individual are relatively low (most people in the world will not die of COVID-19).

Right now, we can see that there are many people questioning the need for social distancing, wondering if it’s all overblown and accusing the government of manufacturing a crisis. The paradox, of course, is that the more successful we are at flattening the curve and slowing the spread of this virus, the more some will say the response was overblown. Or not needed at all.

For some, there is a paradox between pushing back on a government directive to “stay home,” and reconciling a statement from The Church of jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that says “The Church teaches that its members should sustain and uphold the laws where they reside. These governments enact such laws as in their own judgments are best calculated to secure the public interest. We acknowledge that in exceptional circumstances all individual rights may be reasonably restricted, for a time to protect the safety of the general public.”

You know the old sayings, the only constant in life is change, the only certainty is uncertainty. Paradoxes are part of life — and they are part of this pandemic. We’ve learned there is an awful lot we do not control. Hopefully we are also learning that there is an awful lot we do.

Holly Richardson

Holly Richardson is a regular contributor to The Salt Lake Tribune.