By Calogero Salvo
Six feet of separation. That’s how close we can be to each other in order to avoid infection. The recommendation that six feet of separation can prevent a virus’s spread stems from research conducted in 1890 by Carl Flügge, a German bacteriologist, who demonstrated that a microbe-containing droplet couldn’t travel further than six feet.
Ever since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have not been able to distract my mind from the idea surrounding the six feet of separation, or that, on average, all people are six or fewer social connections apart from each other. I find this to be an interesting correlation that could ignite the will of humanity to begin working toward curing instead of just managing diseases.
Illness and death have been around for as long as humans have existed. Infectious diseases, aside from war, have been the primary causes of death worldwide since ancient times. The cruelness and rapid spread of contagious viruses has had a major impact on commerce, politics, and culture throughout the history of humanity. Millions of people have died and civilizations have even disappeared because of illness.
We have just experienced how the power of a virus did not only kill millions, but also destabilized societies physically, emotionally, and economically. As of this writing, we are still in the midst of a pandemic that has been able to disrupt our so-called normal lives, our production apparatus, our wellbeing, and even the way we move and interact with each other.
What periods of intensity and wonder have made us aware of is that when people around the world get together and put the means of production towards a common goal, we are able to obtain wonderful results. This is what happened with the vaccine’s experimentation during the past year. We achieved a fast and promising result with the creation of not one, but several vaccines to combat the spread of COVID-19. Perchance the result is not ideal, but it is effective enough against this virus. This trend should not stop.
Our society has the knowledge to provide cures for many diseases, starting with HIV/AIDS, which has been devastating the world for more than four decades. Although much has been done about this particular disease, we can still see the ravages it causes in poor countries around the world.
This is the time to find a cure for HIV/AIDS and many other illnesses that affect our contemporary life. This is the perfect moment in our history to rally, participate, share and invest for a better and safer world. This vision should not only include scientific progress, as science alone does not cure society’s ailments. It should empower people to fight for their rights, which include health, education, and economic and social fairness.
The COVID-19 pandemic that has afflicted us for more than a year has also brought afloat the many disparities and imbalances that continue to disparage millions around the world and in our own homes. The fierce realities that we continue to experience regarding police brutality, xenophobia, income inequality, racism, homophobia, sexism, the rise of the right, and the environment are, among others, examples of all that is wrong around us. It is time to reconsider what we want to be as individuals, what we can provide to those in need, and how we can utilize our knowledge and wealth to help the less fortunate to be able to partake.
As we’ve tried to protect ourselves from getting the virus and, as a result, safeguard our families, friends, fellow neighbors and the general public, we have also experienced new but familiar sprouts of selfishness.
Cities around the world have been hit hard and are no longer what they were before the pandemic; many of their inhabitants have left for the suburbs or the countryside. Numerous citizens are afraid to take public transportation, elevators, walk in buildings’ halls, museums, theaters or any other public space that requires proximity. These pseudo-protective and self-inflicted regulations that were mandated for our own security have increased, and continue to expand and manifest in ways we didn’t experience before.
We need to rebalance and redesign our approach to life, and in order to achieve this goal we must engage in full and not just sit on the side. Leaving our urban environment to go live a more egotistical life in the country is not the answer to our problems, and definitely not the best solution for our injured ecosystem. I see it as an act of defiance and self-protectionism that shows how we continue to care only for ourselves and not for the well-being of society, civilization, and the world.
Cities are natural gathering places for citizens to mingle all the time. Proximity is critical to building responsibility. Cities are not abstractions, they are tangible areas that can be walked in, that one can see, touch, hear and smell. They allow citizens to cooperate in their economic development, housing, health, policing, water resources, schools, and artistic expressions.
New York City, like many other metropolises around the globe, has been sculpted by its inhabitants. Historically, people determined the physical growth, the street design, its buildings’ size and height, the sidewalks, parks, corridors, transportation, and, in general, all connections that make a town work and livable. As we consciously mold and reshape the neighborhoods and our urban habitat, the setting gives back; it makes the characters, experiences and personalities of its people. It gives the town it’s personality and reputation.
Because of the pandemic, our ecosystem enjoyed a brief pause that allowed nature to breathe, and during that interlude the world noticed how much damage we have done to the environment. I appreciated how we rejoiced at seeing fewer airplanes fly over our cities. I saw how happy we were because there was no traffic, unnecessary noise, and less pollution. I believed this pandemic would enable the possibility for rediscovery of ourselves and our surroundings, permitting us to look out for each other. I was convinced that after all the deaths, economic damage, and turmoil caused by Covid-19, we could change and redesign our priorities for the betterment of all, and modify our attitudes for a finer, fairer, more understanding and participatory society.
Now is precisely the time to show compassion for the less fortunate. This is the time to activate our will to help, rebuild, refocus, and redesign all that didn’t work or that contributed to the imbalance in our society and the destruction of nature.
A year went by, millions died, and mass vaccination promised a light at the end of the tunnel, yet we are slowly coming back to resembling the world of pre-pandemic times. We need to unite our forces and not depart for a “better” more isolated life.
Fueled by fear and evasion, many escaped from where it all took place, segregated from the less fortunate, the majority, those who never stopped taking subways to go to work to make some money and keep their families fed. Those who had no choice, who delivered the food we needed when we were afraid of stepping outside. Those who took care of our loved ones while they were dying. Those who made sure our cities still functioned while we slept or watched from our windows, our terraces, or from behind a screen in our new suburban homes. Those who lost their minimum wage jobs and had to depend on unemployment and the limited stimulus payments that the government provided.
Others, the more fortunate, worked from home, received their direct deposit paychecks, and decided that they liked this new life better. These citizens are the ones who do not engage in the recovery, rather they embrace staying distant, away from uncertainty and divorced from society. They do not seem inclined to return and participate to the fullest, but rather to live a remote sheltered life.
I propose we use the six feet of separation not only to stay safe, but to reach out to others and use our creativity, knowledge, wealth and common sense to work together, readjust our lives and contribute to a better, safer, united and healthier society. The means are in our hands, and the momentum and energy to cure can continue to grow and evolve.