Saturday, March 14, 2020

Different Views of the Virus -- Part I

     I got the email Thursday night:

     HARRISBURG, PA: Gov. Tom Wolf announced additional statewide measures to mitigate the spread of the Coronavirus.

     The Wolf administration said it "strongly encourages the suspension" of large gatherings, events and conferences of 250 people or more.

     Recreational activities like gyms, movie theaters and trips to shopping malls are also discouraged. Religious leaders are asked to "exercise discretion" in order to slow the spread of illness, which now has 21 confirmed cases in Pennsylvania.

     And then the cascade began . . . an email saying the author appearance at our local bookstore was canceled, another announcing our Saturday night dance was off, and one from our local Center in Learning for Retirement saying classes were shut down for the rest of the spring semester. Then the County Theater sent out an email saying it is closing for two weeks.

     My wife B was still undeterred. "We should all go out and get the virus and get it over with," she scoffed. "People are going to suffer more because they lose their jobs than they will from the virus."

     B feels invulnerable, almost immortal, because her mother lived until age 103. So her worry is not that she will die, but that she will live too long. And maybe she will.

     But maybe she won't. And I'm pretty sure I won't. So I'm much more concerned about the Coronavirus than she is. If the governor tells us to stay home, I will stay home. I bought some disinfectant. I've been washing my hands religiously, almost obsessively. I've been out; but I haven't shaken anybody's hand for a week.

     Maybe it's just a matter of how we each deal with the uncertainties of life. Some people just figure, whatever is going to happen will happen, so get on with your life. Others think that what they do matters. They have the idea -- perhaps an illusion -- that they have some control over events.

     On Thursday night, as B was planning her social events for Friday, despite the warnings to avoid crowds, I gave her this analogy. On a normal day, there about about 100,000 airline flights in this country. So, if 2,000 planes crashed every day, would you feel comfortable getting on an airplane? That's a 2% death rate, which is what they're talking about for the Coronavirus.

     She thought about it for a moment. "No," she finally said.

     But in the morning she was talking about meeting a friend for lunch. I suggested not going to a restaurant, but going to her friend's house, or having her friend over to ours. At least then she would only be in contact with one other person who might have the virus, instead of 40 or 50 strangers at nearby tables, any one of whom could have the virus.

     "Oh, I'd be more worried about the kitchen staff," she said. "They're the ones who can't afford to stay home, even if they're sick. So someone might be coughing into my food."

     She is worried about how poorer people will handle this virus. We don't have to go to work, she says, we can afford to stay home and wait it out. But a lot of people have to go to work or they won't be able to pay their rent or buy their groceries.

     But our conversation was cut off by a text. B's friend was canceling the lunch. She didn't want to go out, after all.

     But B just couldn't abide the thought of staying home all day. So she made a date for later in the afternoon, to go walking with another friend. At least, to me, that seemed like a lot safer activity than lunch in a crowded restaurant.

     "Don't forget to practice safe distancing," I called from the safety of my office as she went out the front door.

     "I get it," she called back. "No hugging."


Anonymous said...

I'm not sure your airplane flying example had any relevance. A daily 2% is entirely different than a 2% over the course of the entire run of the virus. In other words, a one time 2% cost, or a 2% daily cost are incredibly different. provides numbers: auto accidents kill 1.25 million people EVERY year and are the 9th leading cause of death, accounting for 2.2% of all deaths globally EVERY year, and yet we all still drive. And even those of us who don't drive are still continually exposed to those who do drive, as pedestrians, as online purchasers, through family. The cost to our society that would need to be paid to outlaw or forbid driving would be incredibly high and so we do not do it.

While I am not shaking hands, something I've always been weirded out by, I am still leaving the house and trying to support my community with my business. All businesses that do not have an online presence, that are smaller, that are service businesses, are in a fragile position. We must not allow imagined statistics or inappropriate comparisons frighten us and our loved ones. It has real impact on the lives of our communities.

Beyond that, you can spend your entire life in your living room and then catch the virus from the Postal worker who is literally handling packages from around the world then going door to door. Limiting your interactions to a single person may or may not be comfortable but it's also useless. As you may remember from the sexual disease cautions, You sleep with your partner, and everyone your partners been with, and everyone those partners have slept with, etc, etc.

Juhli said...

To me the best argument is to protect the most vulnerable in our community by flattening the infection curve so our health care system can hopefully treat those who become seriously ill. Otherwise they will have to decide who to treat and who to let die. Italy is at that point as there are only so many health care professionals, ICU beds and respirators.

That being said I think taking a walk is pretty low risk. On the other hand when I stopped to pick up a latte the location manager was going around hugging customers. Not so bright an idea.

Barb said...

Im with Juhli on this. time wise, we are less than ten days from becoming Italy. That's not where i want this country to be, and to get there, everyone needs to social distance as much as possible..

Arkansas Patti said...

We are all in uncharted waters and there is no really clear path. Lots of unknown variables. But for the sake of my puny lungs and the health of my family and friends, I plan to restrict my movements as long as is necessary. Maybe when we get further into this we will see a clearer course of action and hopefully have better tools to deal with it. For now, I am following the lead of those smarter than I am.

Fred said...

We most assuredly should practice social isolation for the sake of others. If you are over 60 this applies doubly. We may well get into the situation Italy is in. We will know shortly. If we do get to a triage situation, due to lack of equipment and personnel, it will be a fairly easy call when a 40 year old and a 75 year old both need the last ventilator. We have far less hospital beds than many other countries. Stay home and look out for your neighbor.

Rian said...

This whole situation is a 'learning' experience... just like other catastrophes. But this one may take even more lives since it is global. And you have to admit, the possibility of this happening has always been foretold. Were we ready? Probably not. But we have already learned that hoarding isn't the answer. Staying home and having a few weeks supply of food and water (and possibly meds) seems the best idea (IMO). After that... who knows? If we're lucky, as the weather warms up and people stay home the virus will gradually go away. We can hope... and pray.

DJan said...

I went on my usual Saturday walk with the ladies (and one gent), but I didn't stay for coffee. Life is getting very strange, and I hardly know what to do with myself without my usual routine. I'll figure it out, but it's scary to think of getting the virus at my advanced age. I don't have a good feeling about this time in our collective lives. Be safe out there.

gigi-hawaii said...

David and I are in self quarantine, especially me due to a weak immune system.

Red said...

It's hard to get it in our heads that it's not just us but the people we take along with us if we get the virus and give it to others..

Tom said...

Well, I meant this post as a look at human nature as much as it is a warning about the Coronavirus. But I agree, we have to think of "the people we take along with us" as well as ourselves when we decide how much to protect ourselves, how much risk to take.

Rebecca said...

Look at the bright side. At least we have the internet and TV. Even though we are stuck in our homes we can facetime with our loved ones, email, text, watch movies, download books to read, shop, play games, keep up with the current news.... so we shouldn't feel like we are totally cut off from life. I also recommend getting outside and taking a walk.

Tom said...

You are so right -- go outside and take a walk.

Kay said...

We're limiting our exposure as well, but not totally. My husband still has to deliver meals (Meals on Wheels) to his clients. They don't have enough staff to cover all the routes of the volunteers. However, he takes a small bottle of hand sanitizer with him. We're not quarantining ourselves totally yet, but just limiting our exposure as much as we can. So hard.

Kevin from Virginia said...

It occurs that those of us who are healthy and less likely to suffer grievous harm from the virus need to focus more on the hazards of our infecting neighbors who are more vulnerable to the disease. As dreary as self-isolation may be, if we can avoid endangering others, our obligation to be responsible for them necessitates our acting with care. Find a way to support local businesses without opening them to danger.

Kathy @ SMART Living said...

Hi Tom! What an interesting perspective that B has that I hadn't considered. I wonder how many other "seniors" feel the same? I listened to a podcast recently that suggested that we all tend to address anxiety with either panic or denial. The trick of course is to land somewhere in the middle. Both Thom and I are taking a cautiously optimistic approach where we wash our hands religiously, practice social distancing when out and about and avoid public gatherings. Where we live is a large retirement area so there are lots of "at-risk" seniors being asked to isolate. Hopefully by all of us being consider to others, we can stem the tide so that it has little impact. I too keep going back to the fact that there are others in our community and the world that will be effected in a far more negative way than us. So yes, whatever we can do to help others will be good. ~Kathy

Janis @ RetirementallyChallenged said...

I think we all need to protect ourselves and each other. Just because I feel strong and healthy, there are plenty of vulnerable people out there. A few weeks - or more (who knows?) of staying close to home is a small price to pay. I do hope that people continue to get their exercise and make connections with others, though. We can do this!

Linda Myers said...

We snowbird in a retirement community in Tucson. We are pretty much staying home except for necessary trips to the grocery store and the pharmacy. Plus, today we went with a friend for a bike ride in the sunshine. I have a sister and two sons who are nurses - in Seattle and Eugene - and they're providing us with good information. I am an optimist by nature and I am hopeful that this experience - which will mark all our lives - will, as a friend of mine said yesterday, "allow us to reset our values and priorities."

We are all in this together.

David @iretiredyoung said...

I guess the difficultly is that we are learning about this virus as we go along and so there is a lot of uncertainty around. Probably a good amount of misinformation too.

For me, I prefer to exercise caution. I reckon I'm pretty fit and healthy so, if I contracted the virus, it would probably not be a huge problem for me, but I could then pass it on to someone more vulnerable if I wasn't careful. We've just flown back from Dubai, three airports and two airplanes, and we've decided to self isolate in case there's a risk we have contracted anything that we might pass on.

One thing's for sure, these are very strange times.

Barbara said...

You were right to gently remind B to stay safe. Some people just don't worry like others. I'm not really worried even though I am in the high-risk category. I am doing all I can do and if that germ sneaks in - probably on an unsuspecting person - then what will be will be. I'm staying in and doing my best to follow all suggested methods for staying safe.

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