Social Media, Social Network In the Era of Social Distancing: What Does The Future Hold?

We are currently living some new days, some new moments with their share of difficulties and challenges. No matter who you are, no matter where you live, you cannot deny this statement. Because of the novel coronavirus (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome [SARS] CoV2) that has been causing a pandemic of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) across the globe, our ways of life are changing significantly and perhaps definitely.

The very first case of COVID-19 was diagnosed in China, in a 55 year old patient who apparently got infected in the Hubei province back in November 2019. That is about one month before the first case in Wuhan was identified in late December 2019. Since then, there have a lot happening and changing almost at the speed of light. It is thought that the virus originates from bats and was transmitted to humans in the many wet markets in China. Regardless of where the infection was initiated and how it is transmitted from bats to humans, the facts are: now there are close to two (2) millions of people who tested positive for the coronavirus world wide and about 127,000 deaths. The United States of America (USA) remains the country most affected by the pandemic with over 600,000 people who tested positive, and over 25,000 deaths. The projections for potential number of people who will be infected and the number of deaths are terrifying. A significant part of the world is in lockdown. The economic systems in the richest countries of the world are crashing. There are fears of economic recession, and even economic depression.

Unfortunately at the beginning of the pandemic, in many parts of the world the situation was not taken seriously. Many influential public personalities minimized initially the seriousness of the pandemic and because of that many people are paying the price with their lives or the lives of their loved one who passed away already or who are in the process of passing away. It is a very scary, sad, mind-boggling, frustrating and depressing that our world is currently living.

So far, the 1918 influenza pandemic is considered as the most severe pandemic in recent history. It was caused by an H1N1 virus with avian (relating to birds) origin. Despite the fact that there is no universal consensus on where the virus originated, it is well recognized that this H1N1 virus spread in 1918-1919 like wild fire world wide. It is estimated that about 500 million people or one-third of the world’s population, at that time, became infected with this virus. The number of deaths was estimated to be at least 50 million worldwide with about 675,000 occurring in the United States. The mortality rate was high in people younger than 5 years old, 20-40 years old, and 65 years and older. The high mortality rate in healthy people, particularly those in the 20-40 year age group, was one of the key aspect of the pandemic. Until today the properties that made the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic so devastating are not completely well understood. With no vaccine to protect against influenza infection and no antibiotics to treat secondary bacterial infections that can be associated with influenza infections, control efforts worldwide were limited to as isolation, quarantine, good personal hygiene, use of disinfectants, and limitations of public gatherings, which were applied unevenly. Those are non-pharmaceutical interventions that are also promoted and enforced nowadays as an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and promote health for the well-being of the communities. Even if some people are complaining because such measures are crashing the world economy, I believe that it’s the way to go. The more people who die of COVID-19, the less people will be available to help make the world economy recover. It is really important that public health trumps economic wealth. When the economy is strong, the people make it strong. Without people we cannot have a strong economy. Also, in the majority parts of the world, the economy has always been in limbo. Many people had already been suffering with all kind of inequity and social injustice, that now they are not afraid of the consequences that COVID-19 can bring in their lives because somehow they believe that they have already seen all kind of predicament that the world had to offer. Nevertheless, it is crucial that public health officials continue educating community members and continue identifying the positive cases by implementing massive testing activities. The treatment of COVID-19 is still not clear. There are some anecdotal stories about the success of hydroxy-chloroquine combined with azithromycin and zinc, but there is still no convincing evidence supporting the effectiveness of those drugs in treating the diseaes. Nevertheless, if we don’t have anything reliably established and we hear of stories of what is potentially working, we should definitely not hesitate to give what is believed to be working a try. Hopefully those medications will help us save as many lives as possible.

There is something that has been intriguing me. I have been thinking of what possibly those non-pharmaceutical interventions looked like back 100 years ago. I have been curious to know what social distancing looked like in 1919. How did people survive remaining in quarantine or in lockdown? What kind of activities that they did in their homes to kill time? How did they engage with their loved ones that were leaving under the same roof as them and how they engage with other kins who were living hundreds or even thousands of miles away? Today we have social media, which started only back in 1997 with “Six Degrees” as the first recognizable social media site. Since then we have had some notable social media site or platforms such as “MySpace”, “Hi5″, ” Facebook”, “Twitter”, “Instagram”, “Whatsapp”, etc. No matter how scary is the current situation that we are living, we have found ways to remain connected with our loved ones, to work from home while being in constant contact with co-workers and customers, and to even have shows and other activities on TV that are presented like there is absolutely no lockdown. All that is due to the magic of the new technology of information. Today even if we are practicing social distancing, we do remain connected via social networks, social media. In the era of tiring, and depressing social distancing, social media give some senses to our lives. There are online classes where pupils and students continue learning everyday. There are shows streaming live online. There are even some concerts organized for online public. There are Netflix and Youtube TV who are getting more and more people subscribing and using their services and watch as many shows as possible. We are finding more and more creative ways to stay in touch with each other. At household level, social distancing is, in some cases, reinforcing the bonds between parents and kids and couples but in other cases there have been alarming reports of domestic violence. We can easily understand that while social distancing is to some extend enhancing bonds between family members, in order cases there might be an escalation in the number of divorces cases once the lockdown is over. Definitely in a couple of months from now (approximately nine months) there will be a considerable number of new babies in the world.

Should we start getting ready for another baby boom after all this time that the couples of the world will have spent in lockdown? we probably should. It will take time before businesses, schools, work, etc can reopen the way they were before the pandemic. We want to be very prudent and demonstrate great care or foresight in the way that we will reopen the communities that were literally shutdown to prevent a significantly dangerous level of spread of coronavirus. We certainly do not want a second wave of infections that would be due to the fact that the non-pharmaceutical intervention that are being implemented now will be completely forgotten in a couple of weeks from now. No matter when we reopen our communities, I strongly believe that the lessons that we are still learning from this COVID pandemic will stay with us forever. This pandemic will certainly force us to change the way we greet people, the way that we interact with them, the way that we serve them. Handshake might be on its way to becoming gesture of the past. Online school or classes might progressively establish themselves as a more reliable and more promising new market. Live online shows, and live online concert might be a tremendous part of the future. In conclusion, I have to say that we don’t know for sure, with certainty, what the future hold for our world but we know that across the globe there will be some damaging effects of the pandemic and people’s life will forever change. In the era of social distancing, social media might help us redefine the way we live.

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