The house Rich and I purchased in Texas was on 1.7 acres with majestic hundred-year old trees, a creek that ran across the back of the property, and numerous flowering bushes and trees we’d planted. One afternoon, we noticed one of our trees seemingly disappeared.
We discovered oak leaf roller worms had eaten nearly all the leaves, leaving bare branches instead of dense foliage. In ensuing years, we aggressively sprayed hoping to kill the larva and restore the tree’s vitality. When a tree is repeatedly defoliated it becomes weak and susceptible to diseases. Sure enough, a few years later, the tree split in half, the inside of the trunk was rotted.
Every year, at our Coupeville house, itty-bitty beetles make their way into the house through cracks around the doors and windows. Most die within a few hours. Others climb up the walls and die within the day. We could fumigate, but since they cause little harm, we simply anticipate their arrival, and ready a broom and dustpan.
In a sense, the oak leaf rollers are like COVID-19, causing immediate damage, which can at the minimum weaken a tree, and at the maximum, eventually kill it. The beetles are simply a yearly annoyance, which like a flu shot are an inconvenience.
I’m drawn to this analogy because of the massive amount of misinformation and propaganda surrounding COVID-19, including the notion it was created in a lab and intentionally spread by the Chinese. Other disinformation range from the World Health Organization (WHO) purposely misleading Donald Trump, need to fire Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, for correcting Trump’s blather, and belief that exposing people to the virus instantly creates herd immunity (the old, vulnerable, and healthcare workers be dammed). Protests from the far right, believe their Constitutional rights are being trampled, and it’s their “bodies” and “right” to oppose and not abide by anti-virus restrictions.
Earlier this week, an acquaintance in Texas posted on Facebook a doozy about restricting people’s rights to do as they please. He wrote, “The Nazis had a phrase that covered all abuses by the state, ‘Für euer sischerheit,” which translated means “It’s for our safety.” He continued, “Those in society who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it… Liberty and freedom are sacred. Stay vigilant. Don’t surrender your freedoms for ‘perceived’ safety.”
If I wasn’t so appalled by what he wrote, I would have laughed at the irony. Afterall, pandemics aren’t new, so logically, if we failed to learn from history on how to detect and counteract them, we’re “doomed to repeat them.” Crack open a junior high school textbook and you can read how European explorers between the 15th and 16th centuries wiped out approximately 90% of the Native American population by bringing the gifts of smallpox, measles, and yes, influenza. The indigenous people didn’t have natural immunity, so they quickly and tragically perished.
Fast forward to 1918 when the deadly Spanish flu killed an estimated 25 to 39 million people worldwide, including over 500,000 people in America. Two years earlier, an epidemic of polio in New York City, infected 9,000 people, resulting in 2,343 deaths. Polio outbreaks continued throughout the United States until Dr. Jonas Salk developed a vaccine, which was successfully tested on nearly two million children. Between 1955 and 1957, incidence of polio in the United States fell by 85-100%.
Starting in the 1600’s, tuberculosis (TB) caused 25% of deaths in Europe and the United States. In March 1882, German physician and microbiologist Robert Koch announced that TB was caused by bacteria. It took another 15 years until a skin test was developed to measure a person’s immune response. Once detected, a person with TB could be treated, and until somewhat recently, isolated at a sanitorium.
Present day points-of-view
Most people cringe when an associate comes to work with a bad cold or the flu or if someone sneezes or coughs within the vicinity. There’s a fear of catching the illness or something worse like bronchitis, pneumonia or in some parts of the country, whooping cough. These diseases like coronavirus are caused by inhaling airborne droplets of a virus or bacteria.
While COVID-19, a strain of coronavirus, is novel, the strategies for curtailing it are no different than other pandemics. It starts with identifying people who’ve been infected, testing, isolating those who are sick along with those who may have been infected, and then repeating the process over-and-over again until the number of new infections drop.
Parents who’ve had to rid their children of head lice are familiar with the frustration of eradicating the infestation both on their children’s scalps and in their homes, and how their children are prevented from returning to school or daycare until they’re lice-free.
There’s no denying the economic, societal and psychological impact of stay-at-home orders and the closure of businesses, stores, schools, restaurants, bars, cultural centers, and much, much more. People can’t work and hence get paid. Businesses of all sizes are facing financial ruin. Children aren’t learning and are at risk of falling behind or not graduating.
Frustrated, people are rebelling, by holding rallies, attending events, and ignoring imposed regulations on social distancing, and in some cases, having to wear a mask. They’re claiming an “erosion of individual liberties” and as my associate from Texas wrote, surrendering freedoms for “perceived safety.” They carry signs, marching in some cases, shoulder-to-shoulder with signs that read “end the shutdown,” “give me liberty or give me COVID19,” “fake crisis,” and “will not comply.”
Even during polio epidemics, individuals often clashed with public health officials who imposed travel and commerce restrictions, enforced quarantines on homes where someone was diagnosed, and isolated affected people in hospitals.
The problem with COVID-19 is its ability to rapidly spread and infect anyone, regardless of age, with older adults and people with underlying medical conditions more likely to have severe, and sometimes fatal symptoms. Currently there’s no vaccine and less than 5% of the population have antibodies to the coronavirus.
The rate of infection changes so rapidly that what’s reported in the morning, changes a few hours later. As I write, there are over 850,000 people infected in the United States with nearly 48,000 deaths. Just two weeks ago, 366,153 people were infected with 10,831 deaths.
Dissenters espouse, they have the right to return to their normal activities and those who are at risk with chronic conditions should continue practicing social distancing and avoid situations that expose them to coronavirus. However, the more people who are out-and-about, the more likely the virus spreads, bouncing from person-to-person who exhibit no symptoms or may have elevated temperatures and occasional coughs.
How do you protect children with asthma when their friends, teachers, and bus drivers might be carriers? If someone has heart, liver, or kidney disease, will employers pay them to stay home or expect them to come to work and hopefully not encounter anyone with COVID-19? What about the millions of people who are diabetic, smoke or have autoimmune diseases?
The US population is 328 million people. If 20% get sick that’s 65 million people who at the minimum are inconvenienced by a temporary illness or are bedridden for a week with high fevers and debilitating weakness, chest pain, and coughing. Some of the latter group – let’s say 10% or 6.5 million – would need to seek treatment in a hospital. And some will die. If 2% die, that’s 130,000 people.
It’s not a fantastical number. In the ten-day period between April 11 and April 21, the number of deaths increased 221% from 20,499 to 45,297.
Alternet wrote an insightful article on how Trump turned the coronavirus crisis into a man-made disaster by depleting Federal public healthcare agencies and ignoring the experts. Like the wretched oak leaf rollers in our Texas backyard, he pretended everything was okay until it was impossible to overlook the obvious and the virus rapidly spread, claiming lives across the country.
On Sunday, I was reading the obituaries in the Seattle Times. Three people caught my attention. On March 16, Regina Lim Lee, a 58-year-old woman, passed away from COVID-19. Eleven days later, her 83-year old mother, Susie Chin Lee, died. And just two days later, her sister, Willa Lim Lee, who was 60 died from COVID-19. It’s easy to declare, “Loosen up the restrictions. People need to get back to work!” The consequences, however, can be devastating. In the case of the Lee’s, a mother and her two daughters.
Thank you to Ricardo Gomez Angel and Sunyu for their photos on Unsplash