Post-COVID America; Public Space Needs to be Human Space Again

by | May 9, 2020 |

Humans are defined by their social habits. Our cultural anthropology⏤it’s about how we interact and bond with each other in order to form long lasting groups that can experience the fullness of life. We cluster together to enjoy the intimate moments of contact and trust that are at the core of what makes US special to each other. We shake hands when we meet. We kiss when we fall in love. We lean on each other to draw strength.
At the beginning of 2020, these things were stolen from the human race. The threat of a pandemic placed a burden upon the entire human race to let go of what makes us human and become a planet of laboratory rats being observed by researchers , public health, and government officials asking us to go into self-imposed isolation.
It was only supposed to last for a little while. That was the promise that they made. Only until they were sure that they had the medical capacity to stay ahead of the problem. Once they were sure, they promised, we would be able to come out of our shells and resume being human beings to each other again.
Cultural Existential Risk
That promise of a temporary inconvenience now threatens to be stolen as well. The official narrative being advanced by officialdom talks about a dystopian “new normal” world where social distancing becomes the central tenet of how we live.
The term “social distance” means isolated. Isolation is extremely unhealthy for social creatures. It drives people crazy. Known psychological effects include depression, irritability, and unhappiness. It is utterly destructive. It is dangerous and it will end in catastrophe.
We have all already seen the dangers of virtual isolation in the example of the internet. Who hasn’t lamented the descent into chaos social media has unleashed because what’s on the other side of the keyboard isn’t human, it’s an abstraction upon which you can say and do things that you would never do in real life; until now.
The “new normal” rhetoric bothers me to no end because it means the end of what makes the human race special. Proponents, who like in social media, see humans as abstractions of statistics, are asking us to permanently become laboratory rats and psychological prisoners.

I am beginning to worry that government and scientific elites have gotten power drunk in the last 45 days. Their rhetoric increasingly fills with social cues that say do not see people as having basic human rights; certainly not if those rights get in the way of their pet computer models.

Except, we are humans and we do have basic human rights to evaluate the situation and make calculated risks for ourselves. And in the United States at least, that right is in alienable. What does that mean?
Not Our First Rodeo
The human species has been taking calculated risks on this planet for over 200,000 years. That is a hell of a long time. 
In that time, we have survived countless plagues that have repeatedly decimated and evolved us into the apex creatures of this world. We have rebounded each time and become a more interesting animal exploring a plethora of complex social systems, languages, art and science in the process. We don’t give up our chase to reach human happiness without a fight. It is special. It is worth doing whatever it takes not to lose it to a Draconian dystopia.
It is important that every human realize that we are not some lowly pet to be kept in a zoo. It is vital that we never accept a human existence devoid of hope, not even for a little while. It is not worth the cost to our souls.
It is literally an epic tale. During the great plagues of Europe, a young man wrote poems to his benefactors imploring them to not give up hope that a better, more vibrant, day would come for humanity. They were called Sonnets. That young man’s name was William Shakespeare.
Human Normal Trumps “New Normal”
We need to agree right here and now that we will not be satisfied to life like rats in cages for the rest of human existence. No. That will not do.
We need to further agree that that we will demand officialdom understand that we will not be satisfied with mediocre solutions that relinquish the position of homo sapiens as the apex creature of this planet to any lower form, and certainly not to some crummy virus that likes to attack old and fat people.
Nope! Our demand to officialdom must be that they embark on a path that will make our world safe for human expression again. Nothing less than that will be acceptable. We expect they will do whatever it takes to make that happen.

There is definitely a woeful lack of innovation in the way we are going about reopening from COVID-19. It’s sadly becoming more of a surrender to the virus and an acceptance its rules strategy. Let’s just explore some scenarios.

The Joy of Eating
Cafeteria and buffet style food establishments are collapsing because the business model isn’t isolated enough. It won’t be long until all eat in models will follow suit because the revenue per square foot versus the rent per square foot numbers will not work. That means a restaurant must live or die on its take-out business. It changes the economics of everything. You no longer need 70% of your square footage anymore. Ultimately, that means the retail space portion of the commercial real estate market collapses; and with it goes one of the pillar lending asset classes of the banking and finance industry that protects the American economy from interest rate volatility.
And that’s not even the worst part. A take-out centric food industry means chefs will no longer prepare food for perfect presentation and celebratory pleasure at the table. It will alter the entire concept of meals from a vibrantly social one to a farm animal subsistence one. Basically, life even in the first world for most people will become about the same as opening a can of cat food, putting it on a dish, eating it, and waiting until everyone else is done to stick the plates in the dishwasher. That is just too much lost humanity.
Sorry but NO! We must not accept this.
In my opinion, people need to demand is that government, who’s policies caused this mess, chart a clear path back to health for a vibrant food services industry that brings the joy of eating back to the world. And that means, officialdom needs to understand that plan must be comprehensive and encompassing of everything from the “BAM!” at the table all the way to the health of the restaurant’s bank when it turns in its FDIC CALL Report about the loss performance of is COMRE loan portfolio.
Safe Spaces, The Real Kind
This is one that really bugs me. As we send people back to work, they must go through public spaces. Those public spaces include things like transportation and office buildings. The mathematics of actual safety seem not well thought out to me.
Let us start by looking at office buildings. Take a five-story office building with an average of three major tenants per floor. Each company brings back rotations of twenty employees on premises letting the rest of up to seventy other employees work from home. That means on any given day you will have three-hundred people in the building plus building staff and delivery people coming in and out. Over the course of two weeks, other employees will rotate through; so every two weeks, over a thousand people will be in the building; I am not counting visitors for now, which is a whole other issue.
Most of the larger US urban areas are probably somewhere between 10% and 20% COVID-19 exposed as a fraction of the population by now; a figure of merit that will only rise as time goes on, so it is reasonable to think there is a 100% chance you will be in the proximity of someone who may or may not be exposed to or a carrier of the virus on any given day. Yes. I meant 100%, total certainly you will come within 50 feet of someone exposed to COVID-19 every time you go to work.
That means everyone in the building will need to observe strict safety measures in any shared access areas of the building such as lobbies, hallways, restroom, elevators, and stairwells. Individual office areas can be controlled more tightly on a tenant by tenant risk management basis; but, it’s impossible for tenants to avoid shared areas, so you have a constant crossing of safety level boundary zones issue to contend with all day.

I don’t know how many corporate legal and human resource departments have discussed liability insurance in the event that an employee is infected either within the tenant’s private space or the building shared space.

This is exactly like those nightmare scenarios of Hepatitis at a popular lunch hour sandwich shop causing an entire industrial zone to need to get shots; except this is happening every day, in every office building in America.
And then you add on top of that the truth that unless the personal protective equipment used by everyone in the building is N95 grade filtration and 3mm or better hand covering, you are moving around in placebo gear. So that kind of asks the question, are these government guidelines even effective? And if it is futile, is the cost to the economy even necessary?
This is the inconvenient question, the elephant in the room. One that I believe needs some forthright answers so we the people, who are the actual risk taking stakeholders in this, can tell the government what our considered individual decisions are about how each of us decided to move our corner of the human story forward. Because, in the end, in America, the people make the rules.
Where’s the Ingenuity?
Now, what I haven’t heard is any push to make public space more virus unfriendly, which is really the only way to reduce transmissibility as one increases the population density in any space to reach economically viable use case conditions. I’m not hearing that much in the way of states or counties yet mandating, encouraging or offering incentives to pay attention to making public spaces inherently safer.
For instance, should restaurants, office buildings and public buildings retrofit safety gear like UV-C disinfectant lighting, which admittedly has known hazardous to human if improperly used. But if you tied them to empty space sensing enable/disable equipment to initiate cleansing of critical shared space areas repeating on a schedule throughout the day, how much less dangerous will public spaces be for the humans. How about overnight or between shift changes? They do that in some buildings now. Should this practice be more widespread?
My point is that there are technological things that can be explored to gain back quality of life instead of timid cop out strategies asking humans to carry a perpetual burden of fear. I mean, the only real “common sense” way to react to such a proposal is to look back and say, “No. That idea blows chunks. Try again.”
Why aren’t we looking into innovative things more aggressively? Is it because no one controlling the narrative wants to follow up on the tentative utterances of President Trump? Is it really better to make people suffer than admit he might have had an idea worth looking into? Frankly, that seems like a sorry statement about the state of political hackery on the job that needs to be done to re-open America.
Perhaps people should be asking these types of questions while demanding the officialdom understand that people expect life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to return; or its the highway for those officials and so-called experts that can’t solve the national interest mission.

Dennis Santiago
Dennis Santiago

Dennis Santiago is an author and commentator on national policy and global stability issues. His subject matter expertise was developed during the Cold War as a strategic warfare systems analyst, missile defense architect, and arms control analyst. He is the author of the US Imperfect Defense Theory of Strategic Missile Defense. Dennis has worked on conventional warfare, nuclear warfare, and asymmetric warfare. His expertise includes combat aircraft, ordnance, electronic warfare, command and control, campaign design, and game theory.

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