A Few Thoughts Tonight

March 22, 2020

Dear Family,

Now we have lockdowns. Which have caused an economic downturn that has already trashed millions of jobs, and millions of Americans have no confidence that public Health is much of a priority for our fearless “leader” who gets up on podiums and just Makes Stuff Up. Lots of other experts are Making Stuff Up too, and we can do very little about it except Talk Amongst Ourselves, virtually of course, and come up with more opinions.

Here are a few of mine, subject to change.

Social distancing is gaining fashionable approval in many circles, but it’s increasingly likely that it won’t work. Italy is enforcing their lockdowns with police patrols and fines, but their coronavirus death toll is still rising while Social Distancing is causing an increasingly disgruntled populace, rather than a reduction in cases. With even more haphazard planning and enforcement here in the USA, it’s unlikely that Most of Us Staying Home (Most of the Time) and Disinfecting Shopping Carts and Door Handles and Skittering Away From Other People When We Go Out is going to work, either.

But what does “working” look like? Our fearless leaders do not actually have a plan for what we’re trying to do here, which is (I think) cause for even more panic, and social distancing that has a tendency to become selfish and fearful even while people try to be altruistic and brave. I don’t exactly wish to live under a Chinese-style government. But I also don’t think that coordinated action can happen without real leadership.

South Korea’s flattening-of-the-curve (that is becoming SUCH a last week’s phrase!) looks a lot more like strategic “suppression,” which we are now increasingly warned is necessary in the USA RIGHT NOW, if the government wants to slow the spread of this virus. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/23/world/asia/coronavirus-south-korea-f…

South Korea did what no other nation has done as effectively (apart from China, but they had more logistical hiccups): REVERSED their viral curve - and they did it without shutting down their economy. They used a combination of testing, tracking, and immediate quarantining of all infected persons plus each infected person’s social network.

“…Polls show majority approval for the government’s efforts, with confidence high, panic low and scant hoarding.

“‘This public trust has resulted in a very high level of civic awareness and voluntary cooperation that strengthens our collective effort,’ Lee Tae-ho, the vice minister of foreign affairs, told reporters earlier this month. Officials also credit the country’s nationalized health care system, which guarantees most care, and special rules covering coronavirus-related costs, as giving even people with no symptoms greater incentive to get tested.”

It continues to amaze me that my entire state is under orders to remain home from non-essential work, yet it is still nearly impossible to get tested for this freaking virus without clogging up the waiting room at an ER. (It is also amazing to me that liquor stores are specifically named under “essential services” that must remain open during this pandemic!)

Our neighborhood has never been so quiet - none of the dogs need to bark, now that their owners are home all the time! I am personally enjoying all our family togetherness, the kids have tons of homeschooling and music activities going on, and Jeff is lucky enough to still have a job that pays our bills. It’s nice to hear that air pollution above major cities has improved dramatically. And yet, shutting down our country is STILL not, in my mind, a rational response to this situation. I try to hope that this will be a chance for innovative new ideas to take hold in our country, rather than a surge in fascism. The pandemic may prove to be a giant public health catastrophe, and claim the lives of hundreds of thousands or even millions of people. Or it may become something else that we can’t yet imagine.

It’s still impossible to know enough about what is going on in the USA _because our government doesn’t have a plan for widespread testing_, even many days after lockdowns have been ordered. I understand that this is a terrible virus for some of those infected by it. I also know that it’s pretty horrific to die from MANY different causes: cancer, diabetes, Alzheimers, flu, heart disease, car accidents…none of them are super appealing, if you know what I mean. And we can’t yet know whether the death rate from COVID 19 is .5 or 25.5%, because: No Organized Testing! So we just can’t compare these horrific deaths with the others, which really needs to be done, I personally believe, starting today if not just about a couple of months ago.

Currently, I think any government worth their salt should be chatting with South Korea’s prime minister, and GETTING FREAKING TESTS HAPPENING like nobody’s business. That is, if the goal of that government is to actually try to stamp out a pandemic.

However - is it possible to stop a pandemic in our imperfect, human-centric world? On a personal level, do we want to spend our lives always having to Think About The Enemy whenever we touch anyone or any thing or god forbid pick our noses in the comfort of our own bathrooms? This continues to be debated theoretically, since stopping a pandemic has never been done before. Is life under governmental surveillance the price we will have to pay if we want to keep on top of an ever-mutating number of viruses that will truly always stand ready to infect us until the end of time? Do we instead want to prioritize and Encourage Big Businesses to Develop Yet More Drugs to Treat Diseases, and Vaccine to Suppress Their Symptoms?

I don’t like either the Chinese model OR the USA’s, if I’m being whiny and complaining about it, but here I am: citizen of the USA, which is currently reacting to this virus unlike any other natural or other disaster in my lifetime. South Korea, with their “central democratic republic” governance, currently sounds like an interesting place to live right about now!

And since my government is not offering any helpful directives apart from “stay inside and we’ll see if we can’t postpone those elections just a leeeetle bit longer,” I get to hang out at home with awareness of my socio-economic privilege, and ponder random things.

Is a technological approach toward Eradicating Health Problems a sustainable one? Maybe if it is in context with a society where almost all citizens have access to basic care. But even sophisticated tracking and quarantining and “virus suppression” relies of the common yet impossibly complex process of the Human Body That Regenerates Itself. And that process is mostly supported not by government edicts or hand sanitizer (WHICH IS NOT BETTER THAN HAND WASHING!), but by how we live: the food we eat, the buildings we hang out in and the air we breathe, the water we drink And Wash Our Hands With, the ways we move our bodies, how we interact with the natural world, our stress levels + management, the quality of our sleep, plus other factors, plus luck.

The politics of Social Distancing combined with weak leadership plus a Healthcare System that profits from sickness rather than caring for citizen’s basic needs is, I think, a recipe for both fear and the belief that personal ingenuity plus Anti-microbial technology and vaccines can replace the actual factors that support human resiliency. Bleah. I cringe at this situation!

It’s hard to face the idea that luck has anything to do with it at all, but there is that. And luck is a factor no matter which path you choose, and will sometimes support and sometimes thwart even the most morally deserving and morally despicable persons, in their quests to Not Die.

However: I truly do think that we can up our odds and improve our immune functioning, even in preparation for soon being exposed to this new virus for the first time. These sorts of things are ones I’ve thought about every single day for at least the past ten years, so I haven’t come to this evolving conclusion lightly. The odds are, even for most people, even for many older and otherwise unwell people, that those exposed to this novel coronavirus will not face hospitalization or death. And of course, there is some risk that each of us might die from it. Isn’t it interesting how hard it can be to think about that, even when the odds are in our favor toward not-dying? Why is it so possible to eat foods we know are Bad For Us with few worries, or get into an automobile and barely flinch at all, while suddenly in the past few weeks the idea of touching shopping carts has made OCD seem, for many of us, like a completely rational disorder?

To say that not all governments have a public healthcare system like South Korea’s is a gigantic understatement. So even while I hang out mostly at home, and wash my hands after going out, I think that I and my family will have to co-exist with COVID 19 and/or its rapidly mutating virus babies, sooner than later. I understand that for certain high-risk populations that is not a luxury they feel able or willing to contemplate, because the odds are worse that Luck will be on their side, which means self-quarantine is their only option.

Thanks for sharing all of your random thoughts. I appreciate receiving them! And I hope you and your family are getting out in the sunshine and finding the silver linings.