What an extraordinary time. Right?
I have many, MANY thoughts on COVID-19. Obviously. Who doesn’t? Mostly non-conspiratorial. Not that I don’t believe conspiracies exist, obviously people come together and conspire toward shared desired outcomes, some malevolent, all the time. But mostly because right now, there’s just not enough data. No overwhelming information. Nothing about any of the theorized conspiracies make enough sense.
Bottom line. The species is combatting a novel virus. Where and how and why it originated? Well…..time will never tell. We’ll never know and honestly, in the end, it’s not the most important element to trudging through this experience. Let’s sum it up with this statement here.
Instead of shaming your neighbors who may or may not be attempting to press on with their lives, we should instead shame virologists who find themselves in the employ of any state government. If that describes you, look yourself in the mirror at night. Self-evaluate. Resign your position and get out there in the market and design products and services that align with your education and expertise that a consuming public would find so valuable they voluntarily elect to consume. If you believe your work would never be used toward malevolent ends, you are wrong. Period.
In the short term. I fall on the side of the fence that our current manic response will have second and third order consequences in the long term that FAR outweigh the virus itself. That said, we need to get back to living our lives. The virus exists. It’s going to run its course. It’s going to mutate in order to expand its own capacity to survive. (shocking right?) That said, we don’t even comprehend the rate of mortality of the virus right now. Not even close.
Few are getting tested. Experts themselves suggest the spread of this disease is a factor far greater than that recorded. That alone, would drive down the rate of mortality right now, even before mutations.
This virus is not something to fear. We have always shared this planet with constantly mutating organisms. We’re one of them ourselves! And this will never not be the case. The more exposure you have to the world the better suited your body and immune system will be at surviving within it. I’m not suggesting forgoing sanitation or hygiene by any stretch. Clean yourself and your environments! If you’re showing signs of any illness, quarantine yourself. Haven’t you always been doing this anyway? I certainly have.
I remember riding an elevator to my office, probably 2009, with our head of Regulatory Labeling. She’s a PhD Food Scientist. We started chatting about the fact that every floor had a hand sanitizing station as soon as you stepped off the elevator. I can’t remember the conversation verbatim, but it went something along the lines of the fact that people are taking their fear of germs to an extreme, even unhealthy, level.
Everyone is terrified of the projections and data modeling without even taking a moment to consider that our current data on this new virus is sparse and has been shown to be inaccurate. No matter your level of talent as a data scientist, no matter the genius of your algorithms, if the source data you enter into those models is incomplete and inaccurate what do you believe the outcome will be? Something other than a realistic expectation of future states, correct? This is largely the problem with the climate change argument these days isn’t it? Not saying climate change isn’t real, not saying the virus isn’t real, not saying both aren’t dangerous. But these models do nothing but induce panicked response over estimations that are tremendously outside the statistical bounds of reason.
A virus is a living thing. It has a goal. Same as ours. Survival. If it kills its host, it dies too. The virus doesn’t want to kill you. Corona viruses have been around for a long, long time. We can track their historic morbidity. There’s absolutely no reason to suspect this Corona virus won’t have the same level of morbidity as its past cousins. A level that has never bothered humans or created a panic or emergency response.
The virus will run its course through our species, we’ll develop anti-bodies to contend with it and it will be added to the lineup of sicknesses we see circulate year after year. You are no safer at home today than you were a month ago. You are also in no more danger either. The world is a dangerous place.
It’s almost like we’re living in a reality where we discovered germ theory in 1864, and then 156 years later our species grasped its reality as a collective.
I wonder if there exists a principle to describe conditions where technology has blossomed to such a degree that it provides a false sense of confidence in the reality we believe we’re experiencing. In broader terms, when for the first time in history, tools we’ve created begin to knock at the door of capability, but we confuse that door knocking with being present and useful. Or we mistake the fact that since it’s knocking at the door, we take for granted that it’s here, but forget that not only do we need to open the door, we need to invite the technology in. Show it around the house. Introduce it to the family. Train it in how the house functions and most importantly, ensure that its house trained and knows where the bathrooms are.
If this principle has not yet been identified and described, then we’ll deem it officially so now.
The reason I describe this principle is because this is exactly what we’re experiencing today with regard to this virus specifically. Our capabilities to aggregate data have been rising exponentially over the past three decades. Our savviness with that data has been rising along with its collection. That said, this is the first time in human history that we have made an effort to track a virus’s diagnosis, case count and death count in real time and publish that data for the entire world to consume and interpret.
Even the flu isn’t calculated in this way. No effort is made to track cases and deaths day by day and publish those statistics for human consumption. If they did then I can assure you, humans would panic and shelter EVERY year. For instance, last year’s Flu deaths in the US was estimated to be over 34,000. The year before that, over 60,000! This season’s Corona virus current count is under 15,000. That’s tragic, but my point is that if we tracked and published in this way ANY year, it would result in panic.
I’m not immune to the narrative either. I find myself tuning in and checking the numbers and trends across the globe several times per day. It’s captivating. It speaks to our conscious and human experience. It’s compelling.
Sadly, I think we’re a bit premature in our ability to track and understand these metrics in a real way. I think our arrogance has fueled this approach and this response. I find myself utilizing worldometers.com most frequently. Their interface is the most agreeable to my preferred consumption. Right on their site, in plain language, it clearly states that cases published are a tally of both confirmed and presumptive cases. That should cause any human on Earth to stop and ask a few questions. This is the very reason the CDC doesn’t make an effort to track any virus in real time. There’s no way to do this objectively. Those “confirmed” cases are not an objective representation of Corona cases. You are relying on the subjective interpretation of millions of individual human beings across the planet to arrive at that number. The exact same problem especially occurs on the death count.
I’ll share one anecdote that is close to me. It involved my brother in law. I’ve read all the gut wrenching stories of nurses in ICUs, DRs having rough days as well as first person accounts of those who have suffered through horrific experiences with this virus. They’re gut wrenching. I feel those stories.
Also, though, they’re anecdotal and an appeal to emotion. You can’t let those stories blind you from the objective.
My personal exposure to this circus, vicariously through my brother in law, happened a couple weeks ago. He woke up feeling off. By mid-day he had rapidly developed a fever and chills, a sore throat and felt terrible. Overly concerned about the global narrative he called his doctor immediately and scheduled a visit.
Given his symptoms his Dr could have ordered a flu and strep test. Both of these have rapid pathologies and he could have had answers on those tests within an hour. Instead, his Dr subjectively diagnosed him as having COVID-19 and sent him off with instructions to get tested at a nearby drive thru facility. Now, given rapidly changing reporting protocols by the CDC, he was no doubt tallied as one of our states COVID cases. Even though he likely had strep or the flu or even just a cold and could have been administered a known and trusted treatment that very day.
Instead he went home, quarantined himself, and was feeling fine within a few days.
This is irresponsible on part of the Dr in my opinion. And you know this type of circumstance is not an isolated case.
The questions we should all be asking right now.
What percentage of published cases, day by day, are confirmed vs. presumptive?
What percentage of deaths, day by day, are pathologically confirmed to have COVID present?
Of those confirmed with COVID, what percentage can be shown to have died DUE to COVID and what percentage passed away WITH COVID? Even that question brings to bear tremendous subjectivity on part of individual Drs.
In the world’s hotspots how are average annual deaths comparing to any other year? This is a valid question. Especially considering the subjective nature of death reporting and designation.
We’ll leave it at that for now. I really started writing this article to discuss the fact that we can’t sustain a shuttered economy. The consequences will be far greater and far more complex than even the best economists in the world could likely grasp, let alone articulate in a way that would be consumed by the general public. I can’t grasp it; I don’t pretend to.
I really decided to start typing today in response to several repeated lines I keep seeing over the past week or so. Through many comment threads. It’s really stuck with me, so I wanted to provide a rejoinder.
Comments like this:
“If our system can’t handle being shut down for a couple weeks and survive then it wasn’t a system worth saving to begin with”
“The market isn’t everything”
“Putting profits over people is appalling”
Our “market” is not a system. There is no system that either can or cannot be shut down. This interpretation is maddening to me. The market you’re referring to, the system in your mind, in actuality, is anarchy in practice. Obviously surrounded by violent, coercive institutions that attempt to live and breathe within and on top of that anarchy while attempting in vain to steer its course.
The anarchy I’m referring to is your life. Yes, yours. Mine as well. We get up every day and make choices. We choose to live, work and play. We choose to eat. We choose to feed our families and communities. We choose to shelter ourselves from our climate, we choose to shelter our families and protect them from harm. We choose to produce value to someone, somewhere and in return earn a competitive level of compensation that will allow us to manifest our preferences in to a reality. We choose to educate ourselves and our children. We choose to entertain ourselves and our families to pass the time and bond with loved ones. We choose to improve our lives by improving our homes, traveling the world to gain new memories and experiences.
I can keep going but you get the point. This is the market you refer to. This is people living. The market is life.
So, to interpret this as “the market isn’t everything” is to say that “life isn’t everything.”
YES. Actually, it IS everything. That’s all there is with respect to the human specific experience.
There is no system. Whether you see it or not, people can’t shut down and stop living for a couple weeks. Hell, people can’t simply shut down and stop living for even a day. If we stop living, well…….then we’re not living. We’re dead.
I am not arguing “profits over people.” People who interpret free markets in that way have ZERO conceptual understanding of what a “profit” even is or how it’s obtained. (Caveat here for profits obtained via force such as govt contractors earning revenue via taxation) Personally, I find any human who is attempting to coercively force any other human to live in such a way beyond the bounds of their individual preference appalling. What gives you the right? And if you believe you know better how one should live their lives than the actual individual living it, well, then your hubris is showing.
If we have all collectively agreed that we need to shut down the economy in order to protect those most vulnerable among us, then sooner rather than later, we will all have to come to the realization that “those most vulnerable among us” encompass different sets of people depending on how you’re defining vulnerabilities.
We’re already, just within the last two weeks, seeing a rise in overdose deaths, suicides, alcohol consumption, domestic violence and many others I’ve failed to research. When 80% of your population is living paycheck to paycheck, they then become the most vulnerable among us if you shut the economy down.
So now, we all need to collectively understand and agree to reopen the economy, while still taking precautions for pathogens, with or without permission from the government, in an effort to protect those most vulnerable among us.
The world is dangerous. It always has been. We’ve been accelerating average lifespan for a long time and there’s no reason to believe that trend will slow. We’re doing a great job.
Now, we just need to get out there and keep pushing forward!