The Courier published Letters to the Editor on May 2 arguing against shelter at home and other anti-COVID-19 virus preventions, one by David Morse (When Does COVID-19 End?) and another by Mike Bibb (Is Continued Shutdown A ‘Colossal Public Policy Calamity?). And, on May 9, a thoughtful response by Michael Giacoletti (A Response to Mr. Morse and Mr Bibb) appeared.
Mr Giacoletti’s response to Mr Morse was so thorough that I have only two additional observations, one concerning Mr. Morse’s reliance on pathologists for information on COVID-19. Since pathologists see COVID-19 patients only after they’ve died, talking with doctors treating living patients provides better information on the disease. And had he spoken to an epidemiologist (there’s one working at the Graham County Health Department), he’d have learned the pros and cons of strategies for preventing the disease’s spread.
My second concern is Mr. Morse’s saying “We have to come out of the bomb shelter sooner or later, and sooner is better.” Well, Brits remained in bomb shelters after Nazi bombers departed for a simple reason—to ensure unexploded bombs were found and marked so civilians encountering them didn’t risk injury or death. This is a good idea whether one is talking about real bombs or metaphorical ones such as asymptomatic people exhaling viruses around healthy folks.
In contrast, Mr. Bibb’s main point is Britt Hume’s concern that “We may not recover from a lot of these losses for a long time, if ever.” (April 30.) This pessimism is at best premature since staying-at-home, face masks, hand washing and disinfection remain the best at preventing the disease. Note, too, that legislation is already in effect dealing with further losses (e.g., mailing another round of stimulus checks was announced today) and I cannot imagine the Senate not approving further legislation benefitting US citizens just as they’ve already approved new laws for businesses (e.g., preventing employees’ law suits claiming their infections were due to employers’ negligence).
Further, Hume’s use of “if ever” is unreasonably pessimistic in suggesting that absent ending restrictions, there is no chance our country will survive. If this does happen, it won’t come from people protecting themselves and their families; it will come from people not employing advice offered by those who study corona viruses and their impacts on human populations. If one thinks there is nothing to be done AND so does nothing but complain about sheltering in place, wearing masks, and sanitizing one’s hands, I can understand their being so depressed by Mr. Hume’s (and, locally, Mr. Bibb’s) suggestion that all we can do is accept sickness and death.
And so I have two suggestions. The first is to examine the disease’s impacts in different countries around the world to see who’s been successful at dealing with it. I present two examples knowing this is hardly exhaustive proof, but rather a hint of what we might find.
The situation in New York tells us that despite that state’s being the first epicenter in the US, rigorous attention paid to identifying and treating those with COVID-19, and actively encouraging sheltering at home, the use of masks, hand washing, and disinfectant sprays, meant a decrease in the disease’s impact on the population while the number of new cases, serious illnesses, and deaths have declined.
In New Zealand, isolated in the South Pacific, there were two new cases on 21 June. This is noteworthy because their last new case was on June 8. Why? Because the almost 2 week absence of new cases arises from New Zealanders religiously maintaining social distancing and wearing masks. Indeed, the two new cases were people coming from overseas.
In other words, there is evidence that taking precautions works. But more importantly, not taking them jeopardizes everyone—those who take them as well as those who do not.
And these precautions are often not mandatory. I recall a woman at President Trump’s Tulsa rally declaring that we have the freedom in the U.S. to make up our minds about things that are not specifically covered in federal, state, and local laws. And, of course, she’s right. But she misses the fact that we also need to think about how our decisions bear on others as well as ourselves.
But many people, like Messrs. Morse and Bibb, simply dismiss COVID-19 precautions. And following their (and the President’s) leads, I believe we’ll find we’re watching a slow motion train wreck in Tulsa, OK, where the President’s rally discouraged social distancing, and face masks. Organizers did, however, require that everyone sign an affidavit holding blameless the Republicans organizing and running the rally in the event participants got ill.
Why call it a train wreck? Because the president left the switches open by requiring neither social distancing nor wearing masks and that, as noted, flies in the face of control of the disease as experienced (I expect) in other states and countries.
How will we know how many of the president’s supporters got ill and died? The Tulsa Department of Health puts city-wide numbers of new cases and deaths online daily, and I’m hoping the press corps can determine how many Trump rally attendees got ill and passed. If they can, we can begin estimating the impact of the President’s disregard for the virus simply by watching those numbers. I predict the morbidity and mortality rates will go up because of the increasing incidence of COVID-19 in Oklahoma generally and/or because those listening to the President ignored successful preventive strategies.
And if the incidence of COVID-19 does not go up in Tulsa, I’ll buy takeout lunches for Messrs. Morse and Bibb. We can enjoy them at the park on Ray Lane in Thatcher while we discuss the future of humanity. But I’ll 6 feet away so I can take off my mask to eat.