It was more than twenty years ago when we had a global panic. Some of you may remember Y2K. When the calendar flipped from December 31, 1999 to January 1, 2000 there were plenty of folks who were certain it would be catastrophic. The power grid would fail. Banks would lose every scrap of data. Microwaves would no longer have a popcorn setting. Armageddon times.
Some people responded by purchasing duct tape and plastic sheeting. Some hoarded food. Some bought as much toilet paper as they could find. It was a frightening time. But let's push that clock back a couple years. Back in July, 1998, President Bill Clinton announced legislation that would guarantee that businesses sharing information about Y2K cannot be held liable if the information turns out to be inaccurate and a national campaign to promote partnership between industry groups and government agencies; and a job bank to help fill the need for programmers and information technology experts. This meant, essentially, that all that code for all those systems (even the microwaves) had to be checked to see if they would fail when all of a sudden that hundreds place began to matter again. Would we all be sent back to 1900 to pick up the pieces? Would there be any pieces left to pick up?
As it turned out. No. There weren't any major glitches. Not even the popcorn setting. We awoke to a new millennium, and things were pretty much as we left them. Phones worked. I know because I tested mine. I also turned on my computer. No sparks or noxious gas. I took this as reassuring.
By the afternoon of January 1, 2000 we had all had a good laugh and began to make plans for eating all those cans of tuna we had stored under the house.
Admittedly, we did not have two years' runup to the outbreak of COVID-19. There were those in the epidemiology field who warned us that it was only a matter of time that something like this could happen. But we waited. The "president" kept brushing aside fears of a pandemic, preferring instead to tout his stock market and any other numbers he found discouraging. Even now, as the virus races across our planet and people are dying, he wants to turn back the clock and get us all back to work. What a horrible shame that we didn't do the work we needed to back then. Suddenly I am reminded of a scene from Ghostbusters when Bill Murray is trying to sell the Mayor of New York on the idea that he could really use some ghost busting. The Mayor is skeptical, but Bill reassures him: "If we're wrong, then nothing happens. We'll go to jail. Peacefully. Quietly. We'll enjoy it. But if we're right, and we can stop this thing... Lenny... you will have saved the lives of millions of registered voters."
Ghostbusters was released in 1984. How about that for fair warning?