flatten curve

“In this new norm, we are becoming increasingly comfortable with online grocery shopping, distance learning, tele-medicine, and unprecedented ways of tele-working,” writes Indian American strategy consultant Raj G. Asava. Seen above is a family arriving to receive a Google Chromebook on March 17, 2020 in Stamford, Connecticut. (John Moore/Getty Images)

There is no question, flattening the curve is the need of the day. It is a critically important action on the part of every individual, inside and outside the medical system, to slow down the COVID-19 pandemic. The purpose of flattening the curve is to ensure that we can deal with this outbreak within the current medical system capacity we have in place.

Flattening the curve, however, has flattened the economy by shutting down businesses, industries, mobility, education institutions and, extremely concerning, taken the ability from people to make a living. It is relatively easy for a small percentage of privileged folks to go in a lockdown mode and work from home… but not for the first responders, the healthcare community, grocers and folks required for critical systems and industries. COVID-19 has created a crisis scenario for a vast majority of Americans who were already living paycheck to paycheck – many of whom would find themselves in a crisis mode should they run into an emergency requiring mere $400.

COVID-19 has exposed not just our unpreparedness in handling a pandemic, but more importantly, has brought to surface the dark ages our medical and other social support systems are still in – hence the need for flattening the curve. That, despite the significant technology advancements made by (wo)mankind over the last four decades. It is hard to imagine that just a few weeks ago, we were boasting about Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Augmented Reality, and a myriad of breakthrough technologies; had set sights on deep space exploration, to get back to the Moon, even land a person on Mars; and our biggest worry was how life and the world would be when AI-driven robots would run the world.

Despite these technological advancements, one thing we failed to do is overhaul our outdated, burdensome and archaic healthcare, education and other social-support systems. We could not transform these systems primarily because of vested interests, outdated regulations and, frankly, because of our comfort with status-quo.

Remember, it is that comfort with the status-quo that held back leading data center management organizations like IBM, EDS, HP from proactively shifting their business model of dedicated data centers and server cages management, to the emerging pay-as-you-use, virtualized, scalable, on-demand cloud computing environment. An industry they should have dominated is now ruled by cloud computing leaders Amazon, Microsoft and Google.

Left to our devices, humans would never change, let alone transform. Change is only possible when there is a significant emotional event. COVID-19 is proving to be such an event. The urgent call to socially distance and self-quarantine to flatten the curve, with little to no notice, has resulted in most, if not all of us, locked in our own homes. Children are out of school, knowledge workers are not going in to work, and most of the retail outlets are all but shut down. Those who are going to work to ensure law and order, provide critical health care, and to keep the supply chain of necessities moving along, are doing it with great danger to their personal health – we salute these frontline heroes.

During these uncertain times, the U.S. government is leaving no stone unturned to ensure that those affected and displaced from work (it is estimated that 2 million people could file for unemployment benefits this week alone, according to Goldman Sachs) get the support needed to survive through this unprecedented disruption to our economy.

That is, the economy as we knew it. While we hunker down in our homes, non-traditional ways are slowly becoming mainstream in the way we access education, health care and other goods and services. Even basic necessities such as food being delivered right to our homes is becoming the new norm.

In this new norm, we are becoming increasingly comfortable with online grocery shopping, distance learning, tele-medicine, and unprecedented ways of tele-working. News reporters don’t need to be in a studio to report any more, and a teacher does not need to physically be in a classroom to teach. We are beginning to benefit from and getting accustomed to a growing list of free online resources such as libraries, museums, yoga/exercise offered by government agencies and private enterprises. Many activities considered high tech and hence safe from disruption are being disrupted – this time not through an entrepreneurial move, but by a pandemic. It is a tele-ing time we find ourselves in.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic peaks and is behind us, the tele-method way of accessing, consuming and distributing of not just services but goods will become a more natural way for us to learn, earn and access health care.

Flattening the curve is the reality and need of the day which we must comply with in order to ‘live to see another day’. Let us, however, learn from this and vow to never be caught flat-footed in the future. This would also require us to revisit the capitalistic system of our democracy. The government, today, is beginning to act in a caring way, ready to dole out trillions of dollars to help the small businesses and individuals that are facing the brunt of economic shutdown. Maybe we will learn from this and transition to a new system of government. A hybrid government system that continues to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship, while stepping up to ensure that basic necessities (including health care) are in reach of all.

In a way, this virus has ushered us into a transformation which we, on our own, would not have shifted to. It will be a shame if after this pandemic blows over, we go back to the same old ways.

(P.S. Please visit CovidActNow.Org to determine the readiness of your state and immediate steps to be taken to "Flatten the Curve.”)

(The writer is an Indian American executive coach, professional mentor and strategy consultant.)

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