Not the Pandemic We Dreamed but the Pandemic We Deserved

On Saturday at 8AM, fan track Apocalypse Rising hosted public health expert Dorothy Lowry, food scientist George Cavender, and geophysicist Mika McKinnon to talk about the coronavirus pandemic and general disaster preparedness since 2020 has turned, seemingly, into one big cluster that has robbed us of everything normal and joyful. (Case in point: no in-person Dragon Con.)

And, as moderator Jonathan Sarge pointed out, it’s not even a cool, fun pandemic, but “the worst pandemic ever.”  Thus started “Pandemic! We Wanted Zombies, Not Face Masks”, which veered from when the panelists re-embraced apocalyptic media and literature to pass the time (when the murder hornets joined the world stage) to how their mindsets have been forever altered (deep commitment to avoiding the “Con Crud”) and watching science play out publicly via social media against the backdrop of conspiracy theories.

For all three, watching the media, with its short-term memory, grapple with reporting on the coronavirus data and its meaning has been fascinating, especially since scientists know that historically the aftereffects of pandemics last years and decades, Lowry pointed out.

The data is further compounded by the fact that it takes about two weeks to see the ramifications of someone’s actions, McKinnon said, who also talked about how a network of small seismographs called “raspberry shakes” placed all over Canada measured the drop in movement at the pandemic’s outset have now started springing to life, which means that even geophysicists can predict where potential outbreaks will occur next.

Having now spent months watching real people make questionable, unintelligent decisions that go against reason or science, all agreed they’ll never again question similar plot points in fiction. And all three agreed it’s truly harder to plan for a pandemic then they realized, again cutting slack to our favorite fiction characters.

“How do I mitigate for human dumba$$ery?” Lowry asked when discussing people losing their minds over paper products in the early months of a pandemic for a respiratory virus.

Still, McKinnon said she will now always have a cabinet with a year’s supply of toilet paper and is making masks an integral part of her wardrobe long term. Likewise, Cavender said handwashing has become a lifelong habit and has noted, with awe, seeing people buying copious amounts of ammunition as if that was an answer to this pandemic.

But, planning thoughtfully, they agreed, is a real need at both a personal level and the national level. Cavender brought up the challenge of planning for hurricanes, earthquakes, and other natural disasters during a pandemic as well.

“Are we going to have a 100% solution?” Lowry asked. Likely not, she said, but talks are happening and processes are being put into place, and that’s a start.

McKinnon echoed this, saying that while on a personal level, people—who are in high-anxiety, high-response mode—are now paying attention and are more aware of the need to plan for multiple disasters, unfortunately resources are scarce: fewer jobs, less money, smaller social circles. For example, she said, if your house floods right now, it’s not easy to go stay with friends.

Lowry then told an all-too-common tale these days of being stopped by an older woman and passed propaganda peddling conspiracy theories that endanger your health.

McKinnon then reminded us that “our biggest danger are other people, but our biggest strength are other people.” As a scientist, she gets pinged for one-on-one communication, and that personal communication can make a huge difference in helping someone understand. She works hard to continually educate others.

Cavender echoed this sentiment and pointed out that, evolutionary, humans were never the biggest or strongest predator, but we climbed to the top by the strength of our numbers and our ability to communicate.

By that measure, we must stick and work together to beat this pandemic—even if the war we are waging is one of “wear your damn mask!” and not the more thrilling “kill the living dead!” Though, who knows by next Con what this novel coronavirus may have morphed into. Let’s hope oblivion.

Author of the article

Kelly McCorkendale is a dog-lover, avid quilter, and occasional creative writer who loves the color orange and boycotts cable (except Game of Thrones because, well, what if winter is coming!?). After college, she realized poets weren’t in demand, so she shipped off to Madagascar with Peace Corps. Since then, she’s found a niche working on health systems in Africa but has a long-list of life tasks yet to be fulfilled--such as perform blackmail, learn a trade, and become a competitive eater. She has an MA in International Education, believes rice is the elixir of life, and, in high school, won the best supporting actress honor for the state of Missouri. She may also recite poetry (her first love) when imbibing in alcohol.