We are in the midst of a plague.
Now is the time for us to recognize our responsibility to one another — And we mustn't forget that valuable lesson when the smoke clears.
Sorry for the late-night post but — I’m sure you’ve heard of the new strain of coronavirus and its related illness COVID–19 over the past few weeks. I’ve been searching for how I could help in some way. Since I’m high-risk, there is nothing in the public I can do without risking my health so it’s pertinent I take precautionary steps. I was feeling very down about the state of the world earlier today as I wondered how I could make a difference and she encouraged me to utilize my newsletter as a source of information. I felt an immediate sense of calm as I realized this could be a really good idea. So here’s the first issue of my coverage about the global pandemic occurring. Please, take care and do your best to socially distance yourself and wash your hands. We must do our part to reduce the spread of this nasty virus.
It’s likely I will be writing more over the next few weeks. I hope to intersperse these writings with other essays, but I hope to explore the world as a global pandemic occurs. I will also be writing quite a bit as an escape while trapped in my house. I hope to share positive stories or ideas for what you can do to help others or even escape from the scary world for a bit. I will be sharing lots over the next few weeks. If you have any ideas for what I share or write about, please feel free to let me know.
It would mean a great deal to me if you’d consider pitching in a few dollars to help support this endeavor; both my coverage of COVID–19 and also my writing in general. If you’d like to buy me a cup of coffee a month — these newsletters are almost always written with a cuppa joe by my side — go to my Patreon and begin contributing $3/month! If instead of a monthly contribution, you’d like to drop a dollar or two as a tip, here’s my Venmo or PayPal. I hope to make a few extra bucks here and there to keep this up and commit more time to my writing and see where that takes me. Every dollar is dearly appreciated. And, as always: feedback, email replies, comments, and shares are also dearly appreciated. To have people support my writing in that way is one of the coolest feelings ever. Thank you all.
The human mind does not respond well to uncertainty. Uncertainty begets fear and powerlessness. Uncertainty forces us to analyze several different possibilities; it forces us to use risk-analysis — something humans are not very good at — to determine the likelihood that we personally will be affected. We tend to overestimate benefits and underestimate risks. Consider how many people tend to think that meteorologists are bad at their job; you may be shocked to realize how meteorologists are actually quite good compared to other professions that predict the future, and that you may be overestimating your own understanding of probability.
Suppose, then, you add all of this with a global pandemic. Humans, it turns out, aren’t very good at handling a worldwide atrocity; governments are made of humans after all, with all of their bad understanding of probability and tendency to underestimate risks. It becomes further exacerbated when you consider the political and media frameworks that are also composed of humans with biases and motivations.
It is possible to find good sources of information (and I’ll be sure to link heavily in these posts). It just requires work, fortitude, self-motivation, and the ability to put all of this (probably) new information together. We can’t all be epidemiologists or virologists in addition to our current careers. Understanding a global pandemic requires epidemiological, psychological, sociological, and scientific knowledge. There’s a reason there are entire careers dedicated to studying pandemics to prevent them; but just like you can never totally prevent wildfires, you can’t ever totally prevent pandemics. We just get better at it, or at least we hope.
Viruses spread by contact. Transmission via contact is especially lethal when it comes to a social species. Every single year, humans become less and less widely distributed. We are becoming a more and more social species as more of us move inwards to cities instead of outwards. So viruses spread by contact and humans are social creatures, so how do we slow the spread of viruses? Social distancing.
(Future pieces over the coming weeks will be discussing many different components to this.)
Hopefully, you’ve become aware of COVID–19 — COVID-19 is the name of the illness caused by this new strain of coronavirus causing the global pandemic — in the past few weeks or months. If you haven’t, I recommend starting with The Atlantic’s coverage; they have been spectacular in their reporting thus far.
Right now, I want to be very candid: I’m frightened. From what we know so far, the people most likely to die from COVID–19 are older adults and those with chronic diseases, such as cystic fibrosis, asthma, heart disease, and diabetes among others. I have many friends in the CF community. I worry about their health like I worry about my own and like I worried about my sister’s. Seeing any friend get sick hurts and reminds me of how fragile life is. I also have many friends with many other chronic diseases; I worry about these folks, too. I worry about the many elderly people across the country that will get sick and those that will die during this. I also worry about all of these people during the flu season.
As this pandemic has spread and began touching nearly every community across the US and world, we have witnessed how humans process the world around them. I don’t think tragedy brings anything out that doesn’t already exist; instead, I think it’s an acute intensification of the way we process the world all the time. I have seen more posts than I like about how COVID–19 “is just like the flu” and how “it’s only bad if you’re old or have an underlying condition!” While I understand the impulse, I don’t think it does a lot of good to talk about how many people are old or have an underlying condition (though it is more than half of the country). Rather, I think we need to consider what we’re saying when we say that, why we shouldn’t think of it that way, and also why we need to understand why it helps others to frame it that way.
When somebody with a chronic disease or is older hears that framing, what they are hearing, at best, is “Well this is not my concern but it’s yours, tough shit” and, at worst, “Your life is less important than a healthy or younger person’s.” That type of framing implies that since it’s more harmful for a different population that we shouldn’t take it seriously as a global population or view it as a public safety concern. It is fundamentally selfish to think of something as unserious since you’re not the most vulnerable population. People with bad intentions can run with that argument down a very dark path. I don’t believe the people sharing these sentiments had bad intentions! Instead, I think it was out of ignorance and fear.
This is where our poor understanding of risk comes into play. It comforts us to think we’re not the most vulnerable population. Those sharing those “it’s just the flu” posts weren’t intending to say our lives were less important; instead, I think they were trying to tell others to stop panicking and also provide themselves with comfort by viewing it as not as much concern. It was still out of selfishness, but we don’t do ourselves any favors when we assume sheer callousness without trying to first understand where others are coming from.
If I want others to hear my perspective about why I am concerned about COVID–19, I have to be willing to see why others aren’t concerned about it (whether or not that comes from the right place or not). I think it’s important we’re aware of COVID–19, but that doesn’t mean we need to panic. As terrifying as this global pandemic is, as individuals, we have few choices for how we move forward. We can ignore it and go out and be social and ignore what experts are saying, which will likely only make things worse for the most vulnerable (since many young people are carrying it asymptomatically and therefore spreading it). Or we can take it seriously, listen to experts, and be considerate of others, especially those most vulnerable.
Life has taught me that to cope, we must be opportunistic. We must look at the challenges in front of us and view them as obstacles; every hardship is a chance to learn something new. We will move forward and we will move backward at times, but we must persevere. While it is not nearly enough of a consolation, something I’ve been thinking about a lot is how this pandemic is going to affect the majority of us.
Early on, most people chose to believe this was nothing new, that it was just another flu season. Lots of people said that the experts or media were overreacting; people began sharing memes about how many people die from obesity-related diseases, or cardiovascular diseases, or cancer. This reaction makes sense; most people were misinformed or were reacting defensively. They wanted to believe this wasn’t that serious or that they were at risk or that their lives would have to change. Even though we can’t change the past, I wish people would have reacted differently. Hopefully there’s never another pandemic like this, but if there is, we must all learn from this and act better next time.
As the scope of the pandemic becomes clearer, people are being more and more cautious. This is a good thing. On social media at least, it’s evident that people are taking this social distancing and self-isolation thing seriously. People are working from home and states are starting to enact serious policies to reduce the spread by closing restaurants and bars and other public gathering spots. For the first time in decades, we are going to confront intense social isolation from one another. It’s lucky we have social media and the internet to provide us lines of support for that social fix we all crave but even then, this is hard for us to process. How are we going to respond to this?
I hope this also makes us consider something that is important for the future of any society: The responsibilities we, as individuals, have to others, both within our communities but also the whole world. What do we owe others? is a question we should all ponder right now. If it’s a question that matters during a plague — a time that feels like the end of the world for all of us — isn’t it a question that should matter all the time? If something matters during the apocalypse, why wouldn’t it matter when things are okay?
We can promote rugged individualism all we want, but the reality is different. We are affected by others’ actions, and our actions affect others. It’s on us to be aware and considerate of our actions and their consequences. We are a part of our community. If we choose to not be considerate of others, we are complicit in the repercussions of those actions. If we reject our own involvement, we can’t reasonably expect others to be considerate of us. The problem with rugged individualism is that there is no such thing. We are all affected by each other in one way or another. It is more likely than not that we have somebody we deeply care about that is old or has an underlying condition. Based on worst-case scenarios, most of us are probably going to get COVID–19. Reducing the spread is so important so we can “flatten the curve” and ensure hospital beds and ventilators are needed for the sickest individuals.
It’s easy to argue the importance of what we owe others during an unprecedented, once-in-a-generation global pandemic. Why shouldn’t we feel this way all the time? As our lives come to a halt and we spend more time isolated, I think we are all going to realize just how important others are to us. Just as we deserve a vibrant world, we owe others a chance at one, too. This will require us to recognize our responsibility to others. I hope you find peace during this time. I know we’re all going to struggle, but we’re all going to need one another.
When a plague forces us to reconcile with what we owe one another, we can carry that lesson every day forward. We can make the world better. We just have to recognize we must look out for one another. I vow to look out for you. I hope you plan to look out for me. I’m going to need it. You very well may need others to look out for you.
Please give me any suggestions for how I should cover this or for suggestions to escape. I have lots of ideas right now but am happily accepting more!