“Pandemic parties” are part of the summer sequel to the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo by Isabella Mendes, via Pexels.
Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the ... well, the water’s probably fine. But good luck getting there.
There must be a law of thermodynamics stating that every summertime horror story has to have a sequel. “Jaws” begat “Jaws 2” and with it, one of Hollywood’s most unforgettable tag lines. Rocket Raccoon and the other Guardians saved the galaxy from destruction in 2014, and had to save it again in 2017. And now COVID-19 is back for a summer encore, even before the final reviews are in for its original release last winter.
It is an epic disaster for the airlines. They were just starting to rebuild their U.S. domestic schedules when cases of the new coronavirus began to spike in the latter part of June before soaring in most of the South and West in the first half of July. Now the steadily mounting traffic they had begun to count on has again shriveled. New York and some other jurisdictions have imposed two-week quarantines on visitors from COVID-19 hot spots, while indoor dining and other tentative steps toward leisure normalcy are halted or rolled back. The Wall Street Journal reported that United Airlines experienced a quick decline in bookings after the new quarantines were announced. Bookings at United’s Newark, New Jersey hub were reportedly 16% of their July 1, 2019 level. Three weeks prior, they had reached nearly a third of the previous year’s bookings.
By autumn, an initial federally funded standstill will expire. Tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of airline workers will be laid off. Carriers including United, Southwest Airlines, Delta Air Lines and others have offered buyout or early retirement packages to try to reduce headcount with volunteers, but it will not be enough. Yesterday, Delta announced its worst loss since 2008 and said it would add only half the initially planned number of flights to its August schedule.
Bars, restaurants, hotels and vacation rental operations are all feeling the renewed pain too. Attractions and locales that rely on international tourism face especially grim prospects. While the United States stands out in the developed world for the severity and extent of this apparent second wave, localized outbreaks are popping up even in relatively quiescent venues including Australia, Hong Kong and Japan.
When it’s cold outside and we gather indoors, the virus spreads. When it’s hot outside and we gather indoors, the virus spreads. When we get tired of isolating ourselves at home and we gather at an indoor watering hole to reacquaint ourselves with our herd, the virus spreads. When we do any of the above without wearing masks, without maintaining distance, and without interposing plexiglass or other physical barriers, the virus spreads farther and faster than otherwise.
After a half-year of living with this thing, we ought to know the drill. But there are those who – out of fear, denial or foolishness – refuse to take even reasonable basic precautions, like following rules and guidelines that were put in place to let at least a semblance of normal life resume after lockdown.
They are like the ingenue who runs into the water or the woods in the dead of night. Nothing good ever happens to the ingenue in the water or the woods in the dead of night.
“Pandemic parties” and underground raves are an actual thing – possibly nowhere more so than in my own home region, South Florida, which now has the dubious honor of being the hottest of global pandemic hot spots. Not in a remotely good way.
Despite more than 135,000 recorded pandemic deaths in this country and over a half-million globally – and these are likely serious undercounts – some young people are actively seeking exposure to infected individuals. Many others are risking exposure in the name of letting off steam. It’s like getting behind the wheel while under the influence, with an entire community of vulnerable people in the vehicle with you. Their recklessness is an affront to the medical personnel, first responders and other essential workers who have put themselves at risk to keep everyone else as safe as possible. Their behavior is also a horrible gesture toward the millions of people who have lost their jobs. Psychology may explain it, but it can’t excuse it.
Our rescuing superhero may arrive this fall or winter, in the form of one or more vaccines. That’s the likeliest outcome, given the massive research and diverse approaches deployed worldwide. Still, success and a relatively happy ending is far from guaranteed. If the pandemic grinds on deep into 2021, we may be looking at another season when it won’t be safe to go back in the water, or anywhere else.