COVID-19 Update: the state of our nation

What our nation got right and what we got wrong about COVID-19.

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Since about March we have seen two general approaches implemented regarding the novel coronavirus pandemic which would be an interesting study for sociologists regarding how different local societies handle things. The first approach some communities have taken is allowing people to mask as they see fit, letting private businesses choose whether to require masks or not. The second approach has been a bit more heavy-handed, city councils demanding masks by local ordinance while being flexible for outdoor events. Taking into account population differences, there is not really any clear evidence that either of these approaches has been better than the other, resulting in about the same number of cases.

As this pandemic has unfolded over the past months since March, there have been two general principles we have learned from it. The first principle is that a local community can manage the virus and protect the vulnerable without necessarily shutting itself down. Secondly, if testing is done, coronavirus will be found; however, the virus’s impact on the community will largely remain minimal, most positive tests largely consisting of young, healthy college students who may happen to contract it and then move on. The virus does not appear to ever become as widespread as the media would have you think when they display the latest testing statistics.

Any time there is a new positive test it seems to be a new media headline, especially now after Labor Day. I knew last week what the media’s story would be the Tuesday after Labor Day simply from how they have covered the pandemic this year. Coronavirus is very serious and real, but most of what you will hear from your local news is nothing but fear-mongering to elevate their ratings. Most of the graphs shown in the media usually drop out important information that might give some context such as the total deaths that are still occurring, only showing the increase of cases. However, what is unique about the situation in the United States is that we are testing ten-times more than any other country in the world, partly because of our excellent medical system that can create exceptional tests that actually do what they are designed to do, but also, we have successfully created a culture that wants the testing. So, we are testing like crazy and therefore, we are finding the disease, but reports of new cases are very different from the actual effects of those cases. Continuing to find an increase of the disease does not mean the world is ending and a community needs to shut down. Furthermore, the cases are being mounted up, here are eight months in, the cases that are completed should not be included. It would be better if we could see only the active cases going on in a community, knowing that there is a window for each person of about 7-14 days.

Hindsight is 20/20

As 2020 begins to wrap up, I think it may be helpful to think like a Monday-morning-Quarterback and examine how the game-plan worked or did not work out, especially relating to how we move forward from here. Early on as a culture we all rightly asked, “Okay, what can we do to slow this down?”, and I think most people took that to heart. Some things that we have done have been helpful, while other things were rather foolish.

So, as we look back, let us ask how we can help our neighbors think ahead and how can we wisely move forward from here? However, to keep this article brief and to avoid rabbit trails, I will not list all of the detailed scientific background behind each of these points, so I urge you all to be Bereans and check out each of these points for yourself.

  1. The testing is very accurate.
    • Many people if they get a positive test think they need to take another test because of the likelihood of false-positives. Much of the information about false-positives, however, came early on from testing out of China which turned out to be garbage. In the United States we are almost entirely using a test which picks specific pieces of the RNA that is unique to COVID and not to any other viruses, very sensitive well into the ninetieth percentile. Therefore, a positive test is truly positive, and a negative test is truly negative.
  2. COVID is a respiratory illness.
    • Much of society has behaved fairly strangely as if you could get COVID anywhere from anything, whether clothing, food, water fountains, etc. The reality, though, is that such is not true. This is a respiratory illness spread through being coughed, sneezed, or breathed out. Once the particles hit the surface, you may be able to find them, but it is not how the illness is spreading. This matters because people are now spraying every surface imaginable with all sorts of toxic chemicals, many school districts taking a day off between each school day to fumigate children’s chairs and wipe down surfaces with highly toxic chemicals. Some restaurants are even resorting to boiling money every night and hanging the bills up to dry. Such things are overly-aggressive ways of combating the disease that do not make a significant difference. The CDC continues to maintain that there is no evidence to support the transmission of COVID-19 through the handling of food or other objects, and that water fountains should be opened up. Now, yes, we live in a world with contaminated surface and money is dirty, so please, wash your hands. Most gut bugs that go around are primarily passed through surfaces, but not coronavirus, and I think we will see some bad consequences later on for spraying toxic chemicals everywhere.
  3. Kids are not asymptomatic carriers that are going to kill everyone.
    • The idea that kids are asymptomatic carriers is a myth that needs to stop. The data is actually beginning to show the opposite; far from being carriers, kids are likely going to be a major factor that helps us get through this pandemic. Most kids are not getting a severe illness because they have encountered other coronaviruses recently, and therefore, have a strong immune response that lasts and is protective to the families and which will eventually stop the spread. Kids are least likely to form significant illnesses and most likely to form an aggressive immune response that creates protection for the entire family, protection for grandparents, and protection for entire communities going forward. Schools, however, are being thought of as the bastion of illness which is true in some ways for other illnesses, but kids regularly get illnesses and pass them around, their immune systems strong and able to handle it, actually a blessing to the community by getting these illnesses and getting over them.
  4. Asymptomatic carriers are not spreading the disease.
    • This is closely follows point three. This idea is largely a hold-over from the early days of the virus that has now turned out to not be true. A study recently came out this past week from China; because of China’s communistic regime they can lock everyone down in one town and then test everyone, and they did, testing about 5,000 people. They then monitored the towns all the way through disease and found that those with minimal to no-symptoms were not the ones primarily spreading it. It is like every other illness in this regard, spread by people who are actively sick, coughing and sneezing. Precautions, therefore, that treat everyone, even healthy people, as though they have the illness are both unkind and unnecessary.
  5. Masks do work.
    • There is more than enough information to say that masks work. Yet, we must ask, for what? Specifically, masks prevent much of the in-door spread that can happen through talking in an enclosed space. Even the gossamer masks some people are wearing as a half-hearted attempt seem to reduce the amount of airflow, molecules condensing in a certain area. People at high-risk with respiratory problems that have to venture out should definitely wear masks; people who are actively sick, though, should stay home, even N95 masks not completely stopping it. Applying it to the general population, requiring masks of everyone does appear to have some benefit for a community, but it is not completely stopping the spread, not much difference between communities that require masks versus communities that leave it up to businesses and individuals. Of course, some people say we should wear masks for love of our neighbors so we do not accidentally give it to them. Setting aside the last two points, though, we also have to ask what else masks do: masks are a significant hindrance for communication and cast a pall over each other as we walk and look at each other, uncertain that people are not hiding something. There’s a reasons we put bandits and bad cowboys in masks, and why the Lone Ranger was usually met with skepticism at first, because it fits a persona and we cannot help but look at each other that way. The only way to actually stop the illness is for everyone to hide away in their homes and not come out; masks work but they are not magic.
  6. Plastic shields offer no protection and are unnecessary.
    • I am sure most of you have seen the plastic shields that some people wear instead of masks, or perhaps the shields set up at most grocery store registers. These things are ridiculous and do not work, contrary to the way the world works. The coronavirus is a respiratory illness, going into the atmosphere; it is not going to be stopped magically by plastic shield in front of you and not find its way around. This is thinking that is contrary to the way the world works and someone in the plastic industry is making a quick buck right now.
  7. Singing is no more contagious than someone talking in the same room.
    • This was another question that arose early on because of a choir practice in Washington State in which a large number of people got sick, some even dying of the illness, which has created a severe dent in peoples willingness to congregate for church. The reality, however, was that it turned out to be a group of older people in-doors with an actively sick person who should have stayed home. There have been several studies done since then that have found that singing is no more contagious than someone talking in the same room.
  8. Outdoor sports are not significantly spreading the disease.
    • We need to be realistic. We live in a world with 1.04 x 1044 molecules in the atmosphere, viruses quickly dissipating if they leave someone who is sick. You would have to be literally breathing the same air right next to them. If you are standing on the sidelines next to someone who is sick, you might get sick, though even that is not a certainty. The risks are very minimal and we are already stressing kids through this circumstance, telling them that life is no longer normal. We need to let kids go on living, the benefits of letting them have some semblance of reality far out-weighing any risks. That said, I do not think it would be wise to allow fans to pack out stadiums, keeping the capacity down, though I do not think that players should be forced to play to empty stadiums. Anything short of high-risk people, indoors, and with actively ill people for prolonged periods of time are relatively low-risk of exposure situations. In the United states there have been about 180,000 deaths, almost entirely high-risk older people with respiratory problems which is nowhere near the many millions that was originally predicted to die.
  9. Vaccines?
    • Everyone’s favorite topic! I believe vaccines are good; I regularly get my flu shot. Yet, I have some moral pause for the possible coronavirus vaccine. About 1/4 of the vaccines being produced use embryonic stem cells, including the two that are most likely to be developed and which have already received significant federal grants. I just feel morally uneasy taking a vaccine produced through the killing of unborn babies; it may save my life, but at what cost?

This is Not the New Normal

I would argue that many people are misreading this illness; we should not look at this as a new understanding of viruses that means we should behave from this point forward differently. We may encounter other pandemics in the future such as the Spanish influenzas of the 1920s and 1960s that killed many millions but this is not that. Society has developed a fear that goes well beyond wisdom and wise practice to instead treating our neighbors poorly, throwing flaming barbs on Facebook, to enabling police to sanction people who are not towing the line.

Many people have an unbalanced assessment of the risk of the virus versus the risk of not living. Most people have anywhere from 8-10 symptoms that they experience in a month; if someone paid attention to each one of those, though, they would become a basket-case. Most of the human experience revolves around little things that we encounter and we just have to persevere through it unless it is something that is continually nagging or pertains to a real risk like regular cancer-screening both of which would require a doctor. We get in trouble, though, when we focus on every symptom and worry. I have heard several older people at Kroger who have lived through worse things than this mention that they recognize that they might die from this, but they are also in the last years of their life and have not been able to see their grandchildren for the last eight months and want to see them. It is worth it to them to see their grandchildren while of course taking some wise precautions. Our culture is moving in a very toxic direction to imply that such things are not worth the risk.

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