SF author's viral 'Hammer and the dance' gives new perspective amid COVID-19 pandemic

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ByLiz Kreutz via KGO logo
Thursday, May 21, 2020
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As the debate over how and when to reopen California grows, a viral metaphor by a San Francisco author has helped influence the approach.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- As the debate over how and when to reopen California grows, a viral metaphor by a San Francisco author has helped influence the approach.

Tomas Pueyo is the author of the "The Hammer and the Dance" -- an explainer article on "Medium" that has been viewed millions of times since it was posted in March and translated into dozens of languages. He has famously dubbed the period of lockdown to squelch the disease as "the hammer" and the subsequent period of living with it as "the dance."

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"The dance" is the period we're all entering now. The period where we need to think about our movements like the ebb and flow of a complicated dance. But is it a tap dance? A jazz dance? A ballet? ABC7 News spoke to Pueyo about what we should expect.

"I wanted to create a very strong metaphor, a very strong image that could represent the idea of something aggressive early on and then something less aggressive afterwards," Pueyo, who works as the VP of Growth at Course Hero, an online education tech company, said. "It's called 'the dance' because it is a much more fluid phase. You might have outbreaks, so you need to react to that. It's much more technical, too."

"You need to know the steps of the dance and really apply them as if it were choreography," he added.

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But in this case, the choreography is also controversial.

Despite a growing number of counties getting approval to most faster and loosen more restrictions, Governor Newsom is facing push-back to reopen even sooner. His office confirmed they've received a letter from the federal Department of Justice warning that the state's restrictions on church gatherings could be discrimination and a civil rights violation. The Merced County Sheriff also wrote a letter to the state questioning the constitutionality of Newsom's orders. He said he will not take enforcement action against anyone in his country who violates the current restrictions.

Bottom line? Everyone has a different vision for the dance.

"The hardest in terms of the economy is the hammer," Pueyo said, "But the hardest to pull off is the dance."

Pueyo is not a scientist or a public health expert. But he is a data guy, a storyteller and an expert on the idea of virality on the Internet.

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He's created applications that have gone viral, and said that's what helped him realize early on how fast the coronavirus was spreading in real life.

Comparing the spread of a real-life virus to going viral online, Pueyo said, "It's very, very much the same concept."

In this next phase of "the dance" we need contact tracing, more testing, masks and social distancing. At any point if there's an outbreak, "the hammer" could come back down. The idea is that how we step, how we move, how we dance -- now -- will be indicative to our future success.

"What I will say is life will never go back to what people have in mind as normal," Pueyo said. "Once you change your habits as a society for months, it is likely that many of these habits will remain afterwards, so the world we knew until February 2020 is gone."

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