Perspective on the Coronavirus

A big picture view of the pandemic

Source Imagery: NASA

To briefly step away from our obsession with this virus’s ability to spread quite rapidly, perhaps it has other qualities that we should take into account.

This virus could help us realize just how connected we are. How we truly are biologically, one species. Just how dramatically the world that we currently occupy is so vastly differently from past iterations of this pale blue dot.

Milan, Italy — along with the surrounding Lombardy region and several neighboring provinces — has been locked down to prevent the spread of coronavirus. In total, about 17 million people live in the quarantined area, more than a quarter of Italy’s population. The Città Studi district of the city is captured in this Overview. 45.466944°, 9.190000° / Source imagery: Maxar Technologies

As a species, we have always all faced great, existential threats from the outside. They are not someone else’s problem - something that is isolated to one city, country, or hemisphere. And as a result, this virus may be offering us a particularly poignant mirror to see the world that we have created, the world this virus has circumnavigated in the year 2020.

Shanghai has more than quadrupled in size since the early 1980s. Shanghai’s urban area is currently about the size of Los Angeles, but its population (now upward of 24 million) is more than double that of LA. The density that is found in cities is a necessary component of fitting an exploding population into an already-developed world. Yet, as we’ve seen with the spread of Coronavirus, high density can lead to rapid exposure in tightly packed cities. 31.224302°, 120.914889° / Source imagery: NASA

It has spread quickly because of our desire to live in such close proximity to each other. Roughly 54% of the world’s 7.8 billion people live in urban areas. Greater density equals greater exposure to your fellow humans. How will cities of the future plan for situations that could negatively affect all of its citizens?

The Navigator of the Seas was the largest cruise ship in the world upon its commissioning voyage in 2002, and it remained so until 2005. Over a single day, cruise ships like the Navigator emit as much carbon dioxide as a million cars, while dumping hundreds of gallons of untreated sewage into the ocean. During the Coronavirus pandemic, numerous cruise ships have experienced outbreaks. One example - the Diamond Princess, a cruise traveling in Japanese waters, had more than 700 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 8 deaths at this time. 25.778951°, -80.170621° / Source imagery: Nearmap

Our engrained behavior of rapid, long-distance travel has transported the virus on our people-carriers (e.g., airplanes, cruise ships, automobiles) and our bodies, to far-reaching parts of the world. Could we reconsider what constitutes necessary travel going forward now that we have been forced to stay put and still make things work?

Huoshenshan Hospital in Wuhan, China was built over a 10 day period between January 23 and February 2. With more than 7,000 people working around the clock, the facility was a major step in the Chinese government’s response to slow the spread of COVID-19. The facility has 1,000 beds with 30 intensive care units, medical equipment rooms, and quarantine wards. Field hospitals like this one are one of the ways China has slowed the spread of the virus. As of 3/20/20, China has reported a second consecutive day of no new confirmed cases in Hubei province, the epicenter of the pandemic. 19.373908°, -99.088439° / Source imagery: Maxar Technologies

And perhaps the virus has given us a glimpse of just how fragile the systems that we’ve built have become under the weight of global supply chains and the next-day delivery that we’ve already taken for granted. Perhaps this is a prime moment to take those few extra days to reflect on what actually matters to us most?

We have no idea what will come of this situation. Who knows how many or few of us will be personally affected, how long it will last. We hope it is few and is over soon. Yet above all, perhaps there is also an outcome where the combination of this challenging moment, combined with a big-picture perspective, could lead to a future where the lessons we learn rapidly spread to every corner of the globe as well.

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