It’s Thursday, April 16, 2020.

On this day 17 years ago, a gunman went through the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg and murdered 32 people before taking his own life.

As with most of these mass shootings, no legislation controlling gun purchases or registration were approved in the state or nation. 

There were, however, lots of thoughts and prayers.

About a half century ago, my grandmother, who was 70 at the time, complained after a bus trip to my family on Long Island.

She got on the bus and wanted her senior citizen discount – and was prepared with ID to show she was eligible. The bus driver just took her money and waved her onboard.

She was offended.

“How did he know I was over 65?,” my grandmother – who was 70 at the time – asked.

I thought of that today at BJ’s, a regional wholesale store, where there was a long, well spaced  line to enter. 

BJ’s opens at 9. I thought I had seen that it had senior shopping hours before the open – but there was this line, so I started to get on it.

When somebody from the store waved me in. I could cut the line.

Now, I just turned 66, so I’m eligible for the senior discount.

But, like my grandmother, I’m wondering about something: Do I really look THAT old that it’s assumed I’m over 65?

Don’t get me wrong. I was happy to cut the line. Still: Sigh.

I had my cellphone with me at BJ’s and texted my wife that I wasn’t buying the BJs-brand version of Pam – because if we don’t like it we’re stuck with two big aerosol cans full.

And then I thought a little bit about the idea of texting my wife. 

Now she was only three miles away. But I could have texted my daughter in Pennsylvania 100 miles away, or a friend in London 3,459 miles away, or my son – if he were in his Seoul apartment and not asleep in my house – 6,862 miles away.

And they all would have seen my message instaneously. And – unlike my wife, who was ignoring her phone – answered me. 

In fact, if I wanted all those people to see what it was like at BJs this morning, I could have easily turned on a camera and showed them. Live.

Here’s the point: 

The world – over the course of my 66 years and a few days – prioritized innovation in communication. Not just the devices, but what the devices do.

Right now, if I want to get a copy of “Which Way You Goin’ Billy,” by Susan Jacks and the Poppy Family – an awful pop song I haven’t heard or thought about for nearly half a century – I can hear it within a minute of that thought. (I now am in the process of eliminating that thought – wish me luck)

We can get whatever we want when it comes to communication. We can order whatever we want on Amazon or eBay and it’ll be here – maybe even by tomorrow under normal circumstances.

That’s all great.

But why hasn’t the same degree of innovation applied to medicine.

Yes, there have been breakthroughs over the past 66 years.

And yet, this pandemic comes and we were so damn unprepared for it.

Anyone who’s seen “It’s a Wonderful Life” knows about the 1918 flu pandemic – that’s how Mr. Gower’s son dies, driving him to drink and causing him to put poison in the capsules.

We knew that could happen again. There are occasional outbreaks – bird flu and H1N1 and Ebola.

Why weren’t we equipped for this? Why aren’t we equipped for this?

Maybe it’s because great minds get paid more to find a faster cellphone than a rapid test for a virus.

So now, two things have to happen before this country and the world can resume some semblance of life.

One is that we have to come up with a vaccine. 

Why does it take 12-to-18 months? Why isn’t there an effort to have something in development that could be adapted quickly to address the specific virus? 

The other is we need to be able to test everybody. Not just the people who are sick. Not just the people risking their lives caring for them and providing for us. 

Everybody. All 329,526,567 of us as of 2:33 p.m. ET.

Why is it so hard to create something that is so simple to use that each of us could take a test in the morning when we wake up? Every day? When I can watch the Rakuten Monkeys of the Chinese Professional Baseball League in Taiwan play live on an iPhone in a park.

Is it because communications is cool?

You can see changes in communications. That gives them glamour. That gives them cachet. 

Medicine doesn’t do that. If medicine keeps you well, it means you’re functioning normally. You’re not more powerful or smarter.

There are lots of people who say things are going to be different when this pandemic runs its course. We’re going to be better about preparing for the next one.

I don’t believe it. There’s nothing shiny about virus tests and vaccinations and face masks. 

Unless they become the focus of something like Pokémon Go, they’ll lose out in an attention battle to the iPhone 12 or the PS5.

That’s a shame. Right now, a rapid coronavirus test would be the niftiest thing I’ve ever seen.


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