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Commentary: Here Comes The Second COVID-19 Wave

U.S. Army Spc. Reagan Long from the New York Army National Guard alongside Pfc. Naomi Velez from the 42nd Infantry Division, register people at a COVID-19 Mobile Testing Center in Glenn Island Park, New Rochelle.
U.S. Army Spc. Reagan Long from the New York Army National Guard alongside Pfc. Naomi Velez from the 42nd Infantry Division, register people at a COVID-19 Mobile Testing Center in Glenn Island Park, New Rochelle.

Just when we’re getting comfortable with the idea of supporting businesses and resuming our pre-pandemic lives, we might have to hold on to that burgeoning self-reliance borne of sheltering-in-place.  News reports this week are heralding the arrival of a second wave of coronavirus in Arizona, Florida and Texas, raising alarms as new infections are now pushing 2 million cases throughout the United States. Texas Public Radio commentator Yvette Benavides takes a look at our efforts to abandon quarantining and a potential second wave. 

The COVID-19 pandemic helped usher in a variety of do-it-yourself movements. While sheltering-in-place we’re cooking more, baking bread, and cultivating vegetable gardens. Some of us are working from home, too, and during those times when we have to enter the virtual space of a professional meeting on Zoom or Skype, we emerge from our nestling on the couch like a hirsute Rip Van Winkle after his 20-year slumber and note the ways our self-reliance is limited: most of us cannot cut our own hair.

While we’ve managed our DIY projects for all these months, there has been a 42% increase in hospitalizations in Texas since Memorial Day. Is this the writing on the wall? Is the second wave upon us? Could it be that we are about to relive the heart-sinking moments of last March--when we watched as the world shut down and struggled to face the overwhelming challenges of a surge in patients and a dearth of PPE, ventilators and systems to handle the outbreak?

The quarantine removed people from daily life. Millions lost their jobs, and their social support systems abruptly and with almost no warning. We’ve been eager to support our community, but is it too soon?

San Antonio has opened back up in phases in recent weeks.  When salons opened their doors while retaining measures of social distancing, several of my friends said they’d delay all other errands and were prioritizing instead a color, cut, and blow out—the trifecta of what for most of them used to be a monthly beauty shop stop. The matter is not as frivolous as it sounds when you consider that routine offers a sense of normalcy.

Isolation might start to seem normal, but it takes its toll—on the body and the mind—in ways imperceptible, but all too real.  Barred from our normal habits of preening and prettifying, people find it difficult to maintain other routines too. A lapse in routine has dire implications in other more serious ways.  Quarantine moves people battling addiction or mental illness, body dysmorphia and eating disorders further afield from healthy routines they can work to foster.  Those who suffer from other ailments could again have treatments, procedures, and surgeries deferred while hospitals focus on the inevitable crushing numbers of Covid-19 patients that we saw the first time around. 

It’s hard to know what the source of the blooming outbreak could be, and the surges do seem localized, but Eric Toner, an emergency physician who specializes in healthcare preparedness for catastrophic events and pandemic influenza at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, has said about the new wave, “It’s small and it’s distant so far, but it’s coming.” Soon, again, an appointment for a COVID test will be more important than one for a root touch up.

A return to pre-pandemic practices seems ill-advised as we all march toward what today’s dire statistics portend—yet more sheltering in place. That means wearing masks and social distancing at essential businesses only. Unlike old Rip Van Winkle, we have not yet woken up from this nightmare.

Yvette Benavides is a professor of creative writing at Our Lady of the Lake University. She co-authored the book San Antonio 365: On This Day in History with David Martin Davies. It’s published by Trinity University Press.