The Last Word on The Virus

(I promise to stop writing about COVID-19 soon. Really. After this piece upsets everyone who bothers to read it there won’t be much left to say, unless something significant happens in the world.)

Here we are, almost three months into the outbreak and the government is just starting to do things about it. The wrong things of course, because after all it is the government doing them.

Now they’ve got it into their heads to shut down … well, nearly everything. The idea is if no two people get together the thing can’t be transmitted from one person to another. After all it does not spontaneously generate, although some people don’t seem to understand this. For example we’ve had zero cases in this area, but people are still acting like it’s rampant in the streets (inexplicably taking their kids out of school, hoarding toilet paper, et cetera).

Let’s try to apply some sense.

First, we’ll start with my own test results which were negative. Yes it took over a week to get them back. Right there is a problem; you literally would be over the disease by the time you find out you have it. Strangely the PM’s wife got her results in a day. No inequality there, no sir! Any sense there was went out the window, however, as certain members of our community decided I was infected anyway (despite their utter lack of knowledge about the situation) and spreading it all over. This is known as “lying”, and my attorney assures me it’s actionable. The MLA and the hospital both had to put out statements saying there are NO cases in the area, but people still refuse to believe it. They want Armageddon.

So much for sense.

Now about this plan of closing down everything. There would be sense in that if they’d done this first. As it is they may be doing it last. You stop the spread at the start, when it’s only affecting a few people, not after it’s reached pandemic proportions. Consider Trump’s absurd travel ban plan: restrictions for everyone from Europe – except for citizens, et cetera. As if viruses check your passport before infecting you.

Again, so much for sense.

I think the main problem with this ‘barring the barn door after the horse has bolted’ tactic is that people do not understand in the first place what is important and what isn’t. So we have the sensible precaution of stopping entertainment events, a non-essential part of life, held on par with the idiotic overreaction of closing schools which are an essential part of life. Businesses and Government offices obviously need to be kept open. Legislatures? Well you can joke about how we’re better off when they aren’t doing anything to us, but really they should be doing their jobs now if they ever do them at all. They won’t and indeed can’t because this is a time when we need smart people who know how to handle the situation, but all we have are politicians who can’t even comprehend the basics of it.

Hey if you want to shut down something to stem the spread of misinformation, you’d better suspend Facebook’s servers. That has become the primary distributor of lies on the Internet (unless you count Trump’s Twitter feed). This applies to more than just the virus situation of course.

There are some characteristics of the infection that give us clues as to what actions we should take. The current proposed measures attempt to isolate and test the entire population, which is impractical in the extreme. Witness the fact that test kits are already in short supply, as are surgical masks (although the latter for no sensible reason). Instead we should isolate the most vulnerable segments of the population; those with other health problems who are at greatest risk of dying from the virus. This is a significantly smaller proportion of society and therefor much easier to look after. They can be effectively isolated, and anyone going near them tested in advance to be sure they are not infectious.

Meanwhile the rest of the populace can take sensible precautions, such as eliminating unnecessary travel and yes shutting down inessential gatherings for a while. It won’t eliminate the economic damage entirely, but it will reduce it and keep society running until this pandemic has passed. It is important that life goes on and that we understand some people will still get sick from this, and yes some more people will die. It is impossible to avoid this; we can only minimize the inevitable effect, including the disruption of daily life. (BTW the “social distancing” practice advocated by some professionals falls apart when you realize they say “1 meter” when we already know the airborne transmission range is nearly twice that.)

While we’re talking about life, let’s mention this mysophobic preoccupation with sanitizing every surface. The compounds being used for this are rarely effective against viruses (except in the form of physically removing them with the liquid used), but they do work on bacteria. Unfortunately not all bacteria are bad, and some are vital. Yes there really is a problem with over-cleaning, and it could be an environmental time bomb. Never mind the fact this is how MRSA developed or that an area free from bacteria can be an unrestricted breeding ground for viruses to mutate in. Yes, you could be making things much worse with all that cleaning.

Meanwhile the economic chaos being wreaked on the investment market should have been stopped with a total shutdown of all exchanges after the first 10% drop. Not some temporary “circuit breaker” interruption, but a permanent closing until the crisis has passed. Sure people would scream about that and complain that it’s “illegal” (it isn’t), but the alternative is proving to be even worse. If the markets were locked down for a couple of months the time could be used to pass legislation that would overhaul the way they work, eliminating the rampantly speculative aspects of investing as it is now.

On that same subject, if ever there was proof of the inequities of the existing financial structure it has come about from this pandemic. The idiotic plummeting of the markets, the massive disruption to business, and the fragility of the economic infrastructure laid bare before us all prove we need a better system. It’s somewhat amusing in fact to see that the people who complain about hourly wage workers and social assistance recipients are now taking it on the chin because those on the lower end of the economic scale aren’t spending their money to keep the wealthy rich. For any economy to work, the money (in all its forms) has to stay in circulation; anyone hoarding it makes everyone poorer, including themselves.

Speaking of hoarding, why are people doing this? I guess they don’t understand that from infection to symptoms is two weeks and from there to clear is another two weeks. In other words, the worst you’re likely to be holed up for is a month. Six weeks tops. The things they choose to hoard are another mystery, which points out they weren’t listening about symptoms or prevention and they also have basically no knowledge of how to manage their daily life without the disease, never mind with it. I strongly suspect there are millions of households out there with cupboards and freezers full of stuff who still have to go out and buy something to eat every day because they don’t know how to handle an inventory, even when it’s their own. Not everything keeps forever, you know. Not even frozen goods. Not even things intended for long-term storage.

Ah, it seems some of the hoarders are doing so to try and create artificial shortages so they can take advantage of their fellow citizens by selling them essential goods and obscene prices. Good ol’ price gouging! I mean entrepreneurialism!  These are one of the kinds of people our sustainable society could do without; the ones who take advantage of others in a crisis. The stores could and should have shut down this hoarding behaviour the moment it was detected, but chose not to. Perhaps we can have an inquiry as to why they didn’t.

What we’re really seeing here is society tearing itself apart. Not from the effects of war or famine or disease, but from the incredibly stupid reactions to a single, relatively insignificant virus. There have been outbreaks in the past, and they were handled better. But we did not learn from them and so when this latest infection came along we still had no plan ready, and this time we haven’t handled it so well. In fact it’s been a bloody awful mess. Even the healthcare professionals are making major mistakes, and the politicians in charge are totally at sea as usual.

It isn’t a matter of “letting the disease run its course” as “let” doesn’t enter into it: we have no choice. Without a vaccine to stave off further infection it is going to pass through the whole of society, effecting everyone to a greater or lesser extent (dreadfully it seems to have only two effects; either flu-like symptoms you get over, or death). We can slow it down a bit to mitigate the damage as much as possible and keep some semblance of sanity as life goes on, but we can do no more beyond that.

The good news is: 1). the virus is not that easily transmitted (it is not classified as “airborne”*) and; 2). 98% of people will survive it (the places where the death toll has been much higher have other factors causing the increase). The bad news is viruses don’t just go away because you survived the outbreak; until there is a vaccine the cycle will not be broken and COVID-19 remains a threat year after year.

Contrary to desires, we can not enact any plan that will give us 100% safety and effectively put us back to where we were before. It simply isn’t possible. Life does not have certainties, it has odds. To some extent we can control those odds, play the percentages and improve the probabilities, but never to 100% success. Unfortunately if you say to most people “Here is a wheel with 36 numbers on, you can pick 1 of them. What are your odds of winning?” most of them would say “excellent!” Then when they don’t win they’ll whine it was unfair and the government should do something about it.

All we can do now is accept the situation and learn from it. We see more people “telecommuting” and “tele-learning”, which they should have been doing all along anyway. Conferences as well need not be handled “in person” (especially not those taxpayer funded “working vacation” type meetings politicians are so fond of). We see industries devastated by shutdown, and need to evaluate whether they should alter their fundamental nature, have an over-inflated value to society that needs to be addressed, or indeed are necessary at all. Now is the time to re-evaluate every aspect of our world, and look to a future that makes more sense. Remember: viruses mutate into new forms; surviving this one just means we’re available for the next version. If we don’t learn the essential lessons, we’re still vulnerable. As it is the measures we take are just buying time; without a vaccine to break the cycle COVID-19 remains a threat. (I know I’ve said that twice.)

And yes I realize the likelihood of all this restructuring happening is about the same as that of winning the lottery. Perhaps not even that good. Probably around 7 billion to 1.

(Nota bene: students of history will recognize certain parallels herein to what happened from the Black Death in the 14th century. They are not coincidental.)

Editor’s note: I’ve proof-read, spell-checked, fact-checked, and edited this thing a dozen times already and I’m still not happy with its limited information, awkward structure, and omitted points. But not many people are likely to read it, it won’t change anything even if they do, and no one is paying me to write it so … buggrit.

*The size of the corona virus is large so it does not remain suspended in the air like the smaller rhinovirus does (this is the difference between aerosolized and airborne). This is why it is easier to catch the common cold; it can linger in the air after being exhaled by someone who has since moved from the space. Primary infection of both virus types is by inhaling them, with surface transmission to the respiratory tract secondary (the additional steps involved in moving the virus from an infected to a non-infected person increases the likelihood of removing or killing the virus before transmission occurs).

Going Viral

If it weren’t for the coincidental circumstances, I wouldn’t have thought about it at all. But almost exactly two weeks from the day my wife got back from England I found myself suffering from flu-like symptoms: dry cough, fatigue, aches and pains. Now admittedly this is my normal for daily life, so it makes it a bit difficult to determine whether there’s actually something more wrong or I’m just having a downside to the cycle. When the fever spiked I knew it was beyond the usual muscular whatever.

Now consider that the Mrs. had been to England, a known hot spot for the media’s darling virus, as well as a couple of large airports full of people traveling hither and yon. Never mind the oriental fellow she sat next to on the flight back who was obviously sick with something; he didn’t even have to be there to make it a possibility. So out of the goodness of my heart and concern for the public good and all that, I decided to contact the health authorities and see what was what.

Public Health Line: (Automated nonsense that takes so long you could get an actual medical degree before they figure out what you’re on about. Another fine example of the failure of artificial intelligence.)

Doctor’s Office: Gosh, we don’t know. You should call the hospital and ask for Sharon. She’s the infectious disease expert there.

Hospital: Sharon isn’t here. Just stay in and don’t go anywhere. We probably don’t even have the ability to test for it.

And there was me thinking the government was actually concerned about the possible spread of this virus and they would be eager to send a public health nurse out to test any potential cases. I guess not. Oh well, whatever. I’d been all over town the day before so everyone is probably infected now anyway. Or not (I’ll explain the virus stuff later).

Hospital calls back: Um, actually we’d like you to put on an N95 mask and come in at a specific time for testing. (Hmm. Seems kind of contrary to what they said before.)

Twenty minutes later, clad in one of my wildfire masks (good thing I still had some, eh?) I walk in to the ER – and get stared at. A nurse in full surgical garb comes out to greet me and quickly usher me past the other patients into what passes for an isolation room at a this ‘cottage’ hospital. From the looks on everyone else’s faces you’d think I was Death walking among them; they all knew damn well what the mask meant.

Usual routine of history, symptoms, and taking vitals. No fever at the moment (I wouldn’t have driven in if there had been) but my blood pressure sure was up. Gee, I wonder why? Anyway the nurse disappears and I start waiting. Fever decides to spike a bit and I try not to dissolve into a puddle on the floor.

In comes my own doctor, unrecognizable because he is in full surgical garb too. Yes they want to take a sample, and since he had to read the instructions on the sampling package I guess this was the first time they’d done it there. They should warn people how it is done, as that alone would prevent anyone from admitting to symptoms. Sort of like having an oil drilling rig shoved through your nose. Okay, my nasal passages aren’t nicely straight and open as they should be. It was painful, and it bled.

Home I go to await the results.

Next day. They were going to call, weren’t they? They didn’t. Okay, I’ve got this on-line access to my medical records; maybe something has turned up there? It had: partial results. In 24 hours they were able to determine it is not influenza A or influenza B. That’s good! Or is it? Because if it’s not either of those, what is it? I mean we are concerned about it being the new and nasty one.

Oh, that test takes longer. How much longer? Well by the time they know if it is you’re either over it or dead from it.

It seems to me there’s room for improvement here. I’ve had a lot of medical tests, and they are all pretty far from Dr. McCoy’s tri-corder scan giving results in seconds. They’re more like: “It could be this; let’s see. (Take sample, run test, get results.) Nope. What else? It could be this; let’s see. (Take sample, run test, get results.) Nope. What else? (Lather, rinse, repeat.)” One test won’t tell you what it is, but will tell you what it isn’t. It’s a slow process of elimination, and there has to be a better way. You could run out of blood before they manage to try every test they’ve got (my record draw is 27 vials in one sitting).

It’s days later now and I’m writing this, with no more knowledge than I had at the start. If I was infectious and deadly I could be blithely spreading it all over as people do since we tend to largely ignore any illness symptoms we may have, overcoming them with willpower as the need to get on with daily life’s demands overrules the need to recover.

Meanwhile the world has gone nuts about this disease. The general information given is often grossly inaccurate, the statistics hyperbole, and the government response a joke. For example on January 26 our provincial government said the risk of the virus here was “low”. Less than two months later we’re over 20 cases, that they know of. Considering the amount of travel between BC and China the risk was obviously high, not low, and it’s only the fact that it is not as easily transmitted as most people think that the results aren’t worse. The federal government is just getting around to creating a task force to deal with it. Can you imagine? First of all, such protocols should have been in place years ago: it’s not like this is the first time we’ve had to deal with disease outbreaks (SARS, H1N1 to name two in recent history). Second, the last thing we need is politicians thinking they are capable of understanding medical issues and dealing with them. Nothing in the history of the world would support that conclusion, right up to Trump’s claim that it will all go away once the weather warms up.

You’ve got bunglers everywhere, people, and they are in charge of everything.