Route 58, Riverhead's main commercial corridor, devoid of traffic on Saturday, March 21. Photo: Denise Civiletti

Let’s indulge in some coronavirus contrasts, a couple of videos on the brighter side of things, and some questions about what’s next, closing on a hopefully upbeat note.

These are some thoughts, many positive, to share in these tough times: a swerving path of contradictions. Some brief examples: we have all pulled together by staying apart, where keeping a distance keeps us safe. We fear for the health of our young people, yet the virus still seems to pass over most of them. The airwaves overwhelm us with uncertainty as they offer us endless data and guidelines.

Many neighbors have become shut-ins. Knocking on the doors of the elderly who live alone is met with careworn faces peeking out, then brightening with a smile of gratitude for an offer of help.

Then we have quite a contrast between the natural world and ours. Contamination from the airborne virus in Italy has shut down boat traffic on the famous canals of Venice. But now those waterways are cleaner than ever, attracting porpoises and waterfowl for the first time in generations.

A video records penguins let loose for a while at the deserted Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, wandering the exhibits in amazement at fish swimming within the aquariums, blissfully unaware as their handlers and caretakers redouble efforts with short staffs to care for them.

Another tragicomedy is a video of a dog walked on its leash under an airborne drone.

At privately operated facilities, however, such as the aquarium in Riverhead, it’s a far more desperate struggle to feed and maintain the animals after revenue has stopped altogether, with many workers sent home – the fate of virtually every small business across the U.S. and much of the world.

Once-busy streets now barely have traffic. Compare that, however, with spring break at beaches (just closed) down South, swarming with young people. We find contradiction there as well: each one of them would do nothing to hurt the older and more vulnerable folks in their lives — yet, themselves free of any symptoms, they may carry this terrible virus right to them after days of non-stop partying, indoors and out. And the virus among youngsters is slowly picking up.

A welcome contrast to their mind-boggling carelessness, however, can be found in the countless young people who have admirably stepped up to the plate with all manner of creative volunteering, literally saving lives in this crisis.

With older folk, the Greatest Generation comes to mind, and their ultimate sacrifices in WWII. In Doris Goodwin’s excellent book, No Ordinary Time, we learn of how all America rallied to that war effort, enlisting in the military, fighting and dying for their country, rationing and growing victory gardens, while corporations refitted their factories to produce tanks and fighter planes.

Today, we are called upon not to muster on a foreign land’s battlefield, but to stay at home and wash our hands, while factories quickly retool to produce virus test kits, sanitizers, protective gear and ventilators.

Our CDC reports that there are at least five to 10 unconfirmed COVID-19 cases for every positive case. The Wall Street Journal seems to have coined a motto: “Speed and Scale” as the way out of this. In other words, if we find ourselves walking through hell, don’t stop.

Not so fast, says Dr. Didier Raoult, France’s leading expert on communicable disease, who first claimed in a fascinating interview early on, with hard data that there is a cure for COVID-19 in a widely available, prescription drug for malaria and arthritis, combined in dosage with a common antibiotic, which our FDA had already approved. It would be revolutionary if this could be “repurposed” as a preventative or healing medication for what plagues us now.

Dr. Raoult concludes that this coronavirus crisis, as he sees it, is much like other viruses, just spreading faster, and more are to come. There’s other good news to receive cautiously: Chinese officials claim there have recently been no new cases of coronavirus in their city of Huan, where it started.

When the virus runs its course across the American landscape, will it be a changed world, or will old and new habits come back to haunt us? Millions of lives will have been saved as the result of private business literally shutting down, along with close to universal self-quarantine among our resilient citizens. But for the many who will try to return to jobs that will no longer be there, retraining has to be prepared and ready. The time for that preparation is now.

And if it’s shown that one who has had the virus is immune from getting it again, could they return to the workforce?

After this ends, will more people than ever work remotely? Will college campuses, hyper-populated cities and even the simple handshake, become obsolete? Will we need people crowded into cities where they are too prone to repetitive virus strains? Is even our now justifiable trend toward reusable bags for food shopping giving us widespread packages for viruses and all sorts of super-bacteria?

Should doctors, and all licensed medical professionals now arrayed in the trenches, be allowed permanently to work across state lines? Will social distancing, already set in motion by our surrender to technology, be our new way of life? Does our survival rest on morphing into neat freaks, ever obsessed with cleanliness? Are our hands really designed for a lifetime of this relentless washing, 20 seconds at a time with soap and hot water, that is in store for them?

Wherever we are headed, anxiously for now we hunker down, waiting, for reports — hopefully soon to come —that the worst is over. That will be our time to rally, put our world back together, and reflect at last that “no winter can abate this spring’s increase.”

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Greg Blass
Greg has spent his life in public service since he enlisted in the U.S. Navy as a teenager. He is a former Suffolk County Family Court judge, six-term Suffolk County legislator and commissioner of Social Services. Now retired, Greg is active in volunteer work and is a board member of several charities. He lives in Jamesport. Email Greg