The Quarantine Economy
Julie McMurry lives in Santa Barbara and is a specialist in public health with a degree from the University of London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. She is currently an assistant professor, senior researcher, at Oregon State University in the College of Public Health. She wrote the manifesto which became flattenthecurve.com which has been translated into multiple languages and has more than 130 volunteers working on it. It’s routinely monitored and reviewed by a host of doctors and experts. The site is not political and has become the go-to site for the most up-to-date science-based advice on current best practices during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Montecito Journal published a far-reaching interview with Ms McMurry two weeks ago. Two weeks is a long time these days. This is her update.
Q: What is a message that you want to share with the community as we continue in quarantine?
A: Part of the message definitely needs to be for those who can, to need to find ways of supporting the local economy. The most obvious for right now is to buy take out. Foods that re-heat without any problems. We need to navigate the Quarantine Economy.
So, you think this is going to go on for a while. Are we in a Quarantine Economy?
People are beginning to ask that. In order to really inform the next step, we need testing to be done. We need serological testing to determine who has been infected previously and accurate wide-scale testing as soon as possible.
Is the Federal Government likely to implement wide-scale testing?
Whether the national government does or not, I think is irrelevant. California certainly should and probably will. But the Federal Government isn’t coming to help anybody. Period. They’re sitting back and they’re pretty much eating popcorn, watching the governors do Celebrity Death Match.
What is the essence of the Quarantine Economy?
People who have the ability should find ways to support people who have not. That can be different things for different people. If there is somebody who’s out of work who can sell masks that they make at home, fantastic. If there is someone who is out of work who could safely walk someone’s dog in trusted situations, that’s good. There are things that can be done in the open that we should make possible for people to make ends meet. Giving to the local food bank is very important.
What about people who can’t make it to the food bank, people who fall through the cracks?
If you know someone personally who is in need, the thing that needs to be done is to not ask questions, but to give them money. Money is the most empowering thing that you can do for someone because, it could be that someone needs twenty-five pounds of rice. That may cost only eight or ten dollars. They need to keep the electricity on. Sometimes cash is the better thing. It doesn’t have to be a lot.
How can we expand and grow the Quarantine Economy on the State and National level?
Certain sectors of the economy need to be protecting themselves, but other sectors could open up much sooner. The first thing that comes to mind as a really good investment that the state and Federal Government could be making is infrastructure projects, building and repairing bridges, public transit systems that need to be overhauled. This is the perfect time for those projects because we’re not out there using these services, but ultimately they need to be working. Anything that can be done outdoors, especially if it can be done with masks worn by all parties. That’s the first wave of things that can open up.
You see it as a step towards opening up, not just as finding an economy within the Quarantine?
Both of those are true. The only things that can be done right now are goods and services that are produced either virtually or through local home scale production or are related to food. It’s one thing in your own home to make a piece of art, or a mask, that you sell to someone. That’s something we should support. But some services are going to be really hit hard without testing. Like your regular dental visit. Nobody’s going to get their teeth cleaned for a long time.
We’ve had some mildly good news about the curve being somewhat flattened in California. Yet the danger is that people will be relaxed and not hold fast or be persistent. How do we explain to people to hang in there?
Part of it is a warning. You know, places like Singapore and China, they have very strong central government that is able to enforce draconian measures. We don’t have that.
I saw a great meme that said, “Our grandfathers were called to lay their lives down, for the cause of justice, and to protect this nation. You’re being called to sit on the couch. You got this right?” The fact is that none of us want to be in this situation and we shouldn’t pretend it’s a gift. At the same time, we need to look beyond ourselves and realize that we will get through it. Eventually, it does end.
I’ve heard an analogy with cancer treatment. Just because you get chemotherapy and your tests come back better, you don’t stop getting chemo.
That’s right. it’s very important that we find sustainable routines through this. That includes getting out into the sunlight. Vitamin D is a vitamin that your body makes in response to sunlight and it’s extremely important for your immune system. Also being outside is really important for people’s mental health. We cannot have people going stir crazy beating on each other.
How else can we innovate and survive in the Quarantine Economy?
I think food trucks would be a great idea. There could be other kinds of services in trucks. Library Bookmobiles could come back. Necessities could be sold like a roll of toilet paper. They ought to lift restrictions on food trucks. [The City of Santa Barbara drastically cut back on food trucks in 2018.] There are people who have money for groceries to be delivered but cannot find a service. There are plenty of people who are out of work who would gladly do that. What I’m saying is that the community and the City of Santa Barbara need to acknowledge where we are now and step up and coordinate. Make innovation possible.