My Thoughts on COVID-19 (or, "Let's Pretend For a Moment That You Care About My Opinion")
I wanted to finally sit down and get this off my chest - mostly because I know how starved most people are for blog posts about coronavirus jargon. There aren't enough of them, and people should really start posting more random stuff about it. Lookin' at you Twitter. But it's a weird time, and there are a lot of opinions and arguments flying around. I figured I would make my case, and then at least history couldn't say I never gave it nothin'.
I have been contemplating this blog post for several weeks now as a cathartic response to news stories, rantings of community members, and people I have spoken with in person who seem to make light of this pandemic and refuse to take precautions to attempt to help alleviate its effects. A few things pushed me over the edge and into my writing desk chair: a conversation with a friend, and this NPR article -> ARTICLE
There seem to be a few main arguments against the precautions, and basically one argument with many facets for the precautions. Those for the precautions obviously advocate wearing masks, social distancing, and washing our hands because they believe these things will help curb the spread of the virus. I am in this group. I am someone who pays attention to news from multiple sources, values my knowledge and education, and as someone with a master's degree in English studies, I am well-versed in research and rhetoric. My choices are based on these things, and I have chosen my "conscious decision" (words taken from a recent conversation I had with a friend I disagree with, and I'll get to that in a minute). However broad the topic, the argument for taking precautions seems to be fairly simple: help slow the spread.
The arguments against taking precautions are quite varied, though. The main ones I have heard and dealt with in my interactions with people are: 1 - there is no evidence the precautions work; 2 - why didn't we take precautions for all these other things...; and 3 - the government is just trying to control you.
Now, I'm not sure why so many people think there isn't evidence to back up the use of precautions. I mean, I hope we can all agree that, pandemic or not, we should all be washing our hands. I'll just idealistically assume we are all doing that and move on with the other ones. In the discussion of masks, the word "scientific" gets thrown around a lot, and it seems to be very important to some people. And I understand that. Science is very important to me, however unnecessary I feel it is within this context (keep reading, I'll explain why). But hey, I'm all for scientific evidence.
If you want to review a bunch of studies that have been conducted and published all over the world, here is a list you can check out: Studies on the spread of COVID-19
Here is a consultation with Stanford University and scientists researching the issue there: Stanford
Here is an article from an expert in infection prevention from Johns Hopkins University: JHU
There are many others from highly respected medical facilities and experts from numerous nations throughout the world, but let's get on with my opinion, 'cause that's the most important part. Essentially, the takeaway from all these studies is one simple thing: wearing a face covering is more effective at curbing the spread than not wearing one.
But as I noted earlier, I'm not super concerned about what teams of scientists say about the efficacy of masks. There is some very simple science that was done long ago that remains enough for me to get on board with wearing a mask. I'm referring to Newton's Laws of Motion. Mainly the first law. To paraphrase, it's the notion that bodies at rest or in motion will remain at rest or in motion until acted upon by external forces. So let's say the object we are speaking of is a droplet from your mouth or nose, pushed out by sneezes, coughs, or breath. The tiny particles therein will remain in motion in a straight line until acted upon by external forces, which might be gravity (which is still technically a theory and MIGHT be complete bullshit), or the person standing 5 feet away from you, or a layer of cloth covering your face. The face covering might not catch 100% of stuff flying out, but it will catch enough to make it obviously more effective than nothing.
And okay, that's still science. What about my assertion that science isn't even necessary in this argument? Picture yourself at a social gathering. Good friends, or family, co-workers, whatever. Let's say there is a young couple there with a 4-year-old child. A group of people are gathered in one particular area talking, when all of the sudden the small child, facing the rest of the people, unleashes a wicked sneeze into the air with their hands at their sides. We all know what the first words out of the young couple's mouths will be right? "COVER YOUR MOUTH!"
Maybe they don't shout it, maybe they ask nicely. Maybe they do that side-of-the-mouth hissing thing. But they communicate that the child should cover their mouth when sneezing, a truly teachable moment most parents engage in without even thinking. Now, do they do this because of the endless lists of scientific documents compiled over the years about spreading airborne disease and respiratory illness? Maybe. But probably not. Most likely, they react this way because they know a couple very basic truths: first, that blowing your junk all over your friends and family is just rude, super gross, and somewhat embarrassing; and second, that ANY face covering (your hand, your elbow, a tissue, etc.) is better at stopping the flow of particles from your nose and mouth than nothing at all.
So then, there is the argument that "if COVID is so bad, then why don't we wear masks for other stuff, like TB?" And at first glance, that's a valid argument. Undoubtedly, the next thing that person will say is that a million and a half people died last year from Tuberculosis. And that is both tragic and accurate. But that's not taking into account several pertinent notables. Let me preface this next part with saying that I live in the USA, and "we" in the person's remark above (which I have heard several times) is referring to Americans. I want to point this out because those of us in America, and in most of what we still refer to as "the West", are blessed with at least having access to adequate medical care and treatment, something we will easily take for granted when it suits our arguments. Now, access to health insurance is a different issue and a topic for a different blog (that I won't be writing), but "we" at least are able to get to medical treatment. And because of that, the deaths from TB that actually occurred in the US numbered around 500. Almost 90% of TB infections regularly occur in what are termed the "30 high TB burden countries", which are mostly in Asia and Africa, and many people in countries there DO wear masks. Again, this is tragic and not to be taken lightly, but if you are making the argument against precautions based on those statistics, and you're an American, your logic is less than sound. Furthermore, to stay on this tangent, TB is a bacterial infection, not a virus. It won't mutate like a virus. So saying that a bacterial infection that there is treatment and a vaccine for, which killed less than a thousand people in the US in 2018, is the same thing as COVID-19, a virus we know very little about that has killed over 140,000 in the US in about 4 months, is not...let's say...rational (let's not say "batshit crazy"). It's not like other things, and we don't fully understand it yet. A more accurate comparison would be the 1918 flu, a virus which came about for us in the winter, receded in the summer enough for people to go back to "normal" life, then re-surged in the fall and killed more people than it had killed the first time around. We know more about viruses in general now, but we don't know a lot about this one, and we don't have a cure.
But anyway...the point my friend thought he was making that set me off the other day (aside from the fact that he actually used the words "No one is getting sick"), is the conspiracy theory that it's just the government trying to control your mind. And honestly, what really offends me isn't' his decision to not wear a mask or social distance, it's his assumption, and the assumption of so many, that if I wear a mask, it's just the government controlling me, it's not me making a decision. Rest assured, I wear a mask in public because I choose to. That is my constitutional freedom if you want to go there (but let's not go there...it's such a dumb argument). What baffles me, though,is how this argument has also led to the politicization of mask-wearing. It has now become some super-right-wing thing to not wear masks and some uber-liberal thing to wear them. Which is very confusing, since the current administration, the leaders of the US government, have on several occasions made light of the situation. From Trump continually mocking the use of masks and downplaying them for months, to VP Pence publicly not wearing one to visit Mayo Clinic, to the continuance of campaign rallies where people ignore the precautions, it has been made clear that the current leaders of the government have been poo-pooing the precautions since March. But then, if the leadership of the US government does not advocate following recommended precautions, citizen X decides not to follow precautions, and citizen Y decides to follow precautions, then who is closer to being controlled by the government: citizen X not following precautions, or citizen Y following precautions? And then, if the leaders of the government change their minds and start to advocate for the precautions, does it all flip around, with citizen Z and Y magically swapping convictions and unwittingly exchanging their level of subservience? I'll let you answer that. I'm bored with that discussion.
For me personally, as someone who has continued to go out into public, perform for hundreds of people at a time, and chooses to wear a mask and take precautions when doing so, I don't mind doing what I can to help stop the spread. Sure, nothing I do is 100% foolproof unless I decide to just stay home, but if it could help those around me by wearing a mask or backing up a couple feet, I'll give it a shot. I don't have any fear that I am giving up my liberties. And me making a decision based on research and common sense is not me living my life in fear, it's my conscious and conscientious decision. Of course there are those who are simply going to denounce all news that is contrary to what they already believe as "fake news", and will deny everything the CDC, WHO, and all respected global health professionals say, and to them I can't possibly say anything. You are not in a conversation, you are on a soapbox. Have fun up there.
The one argument I have heard that I truly do agree with is not necessarily against precautions, but against shutting down commerce, businesses, and schools. There is no doubt in my mind that there are detrimental effects of closing down our lives, both psychologically and economically. That is a very real concern that should be considered. However, this is an example of where the "gray area" is important. Keep the businesses running, keep commerce operational, figure out a way for schools to be open, but follow the precautions so we don't have to go back to shutting everything down. It is completely possible. In my house, we try to make an effort to go out and support, often very deliberately, local and small businesses in the community, bars, restaurants, coffee shops, bakeries, grocers, all while wearing masks and being conscious of our proximity to others, maybe using more hand sanitizer than usual. I'm not saying you should do like I do, I'm just saying that making this whole thing work while keeping people safe is completely possible - I've seen it happen. And I believe in keeping people working. As a performing musician, I have had to cancel shows and have had festivals cancel. I lose money and exposure when that happens, and yet, I still think precautions are a good idea.
Aaaaaall that nonsense aside...there is one important thing I think everyone should keep in mind (and remember, this is my opinion, so that makes it correct), and that is that everyone everywhere, no matter where, what race, religion, gender, whatever, basically all wants the same thing: comfort and actualization. They want to just feel okay in their lives. And they will do what they have to in order to reach that end. this is not a conservative versus liberal issue, or a US vs the world issue, or a you versus me issue, it's a human issue. At the very least, if we agree or disagree, I can honor you as a human because it's your world, too. This is the understanding we should allow each other. No one in this argument is evil, no one is a villain, we all just want to be comfortable in our lives. And that's my opinion, so it is fact.
What I wrote here might make some people mad. Some people will probably agree and feel like I "get" them or they "get" me. Some might even blindly follow what I am saying because it's the closest, most convenient thing at the moment. Some might blindly rant against what I'm saying with strings of rhetorical babble about rights and sheep and 'merica. I'm not concerned with what you think of me or my opinion. Everyone is the star of their own show; don't let that spotlight burn out your eyes. Here's to being comfortable in your own skin. Be good to each other.