Attention Earthlings: If you’re not scared by the coronavirus pandemic that is now accelerating around your planet, then you’re not paying attention. The time for action—both personal and collective—is now.
As Harvard epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch has said, this pandemic is not an existential crisis for humanity–our species will survive. However, most of us have lived in a blessed time and place compared to most of humanity, one that has been largely free of deadly infections. The actions we take now—immediately—will be critical to restore that safety that we took for granted.
I think it is entirely possible, maybe even likely, that Europe will get hit harder by the coronavirus than China has been hit, and the US may get hit even harder than Europe.
I have two reasons for these scenarios:
1/ Epidemiology: China’s outbreak started from a single point source in Wuhan. Europe got multiple seeds from many travelers, which then started many separate transmission chains. The US, meanwhile, has gotten many independent seeds both from China and from Europe … hundreds or even thousands of smoldering embers at first, most growing unseen and uncontained to vastly larger numbers now, and still growing exponentially—roughly doubling every week. We’ve had severely limited testing, and many of those cases with few if any symptoms are especially hard to find, making it exceptionally hard to trace contacts and contain the infection with self-isolation and quarantine.
2/ Sociopolitical: China has deep social roots, a respect for expert knowledge, and (like it or not) rigid enforcement of rules. Europe has, at least, the respect for expert knowledge. But here in the US, we have deep social divisions, widespread skepticism of expertise (often fed by those divisions), an extremely complex political landscape with federal, state, & municipal layers of government (also polarized by the social divisions), and many independent-minded people who are inclined to disregard advice and instructions—a wonderful attitude some of the time, but an exceptionally dangerous attitude during a pandemic. (I apologize for these over-generalizations; they are only intended to call attention to some of the particular challenges that we face here in the US.)
I certainly hope I’m wrong that the USA will be especially hard hit by COVID19. However, we must face up to the challenges—both epidemiological and sociopolitical—that the coronavirus pandemic brings to us individually and collectively. Take care everyone.
Attention Parents of high-school and university students who are interested in parties and/or bars, especially with many schools now closed to in-class instruction: It’s time for heart-to-heart discussions with your kids—not about “the birds and the bees” but about “the bugs and disease”—for everyone’s sake.
ADDED: Here’s a great image for parents to share with their high-school and college-age kids about the critical role they can play by social distancing. It was made by John Drazan.