Numbers 7/14/20

Thoughts on the Coronavirus by Richard Bleil

At some point, we stop counting in months. There’s no reason, really, but if I told you that I am 687 months old it would sound pretty strange. So, at what age do we stop counting in months and start counting years? Is it eighteen months? Twenty? Twenty-four?

Today I read a disturbing number. One American in one-hundred forty are infected with the Coronavirus. Some places are higher. In South Dakota, for example, where the governor stubbornly insists that it’s up to individuals to decide how best to protect themselves has an infection rate of one in one-hundred twenty.

One in one-hundred forty is 0.7%. With the exponential rate of growth, it is likely that by the time this blog posts, a couple of days from when I will have written it, we’ll be at one percent.

One percent. One in a hundred Americans infected with the Coronavirus. That means that, in my social media post, about three could very well be infected and the infection rate among my friends will be about the national average.

Yesterday I had a very difficult day. I had to drive back to the town where I was a dean until the university decided they didn’t want me. This was a five-hour drive deep into a very red state to a painfully small town. The largest “store” in town is probably the gas station, with a typical attached convenience store and sandwich shop. Twice I stopped in for one reason or another, and twice, with several people in the store, I couldn’t help but notice that nobody was wearing a mask, including the two making sandwiches in the deli shop.

I did.

I don’t wear a mask out of fear. The reality is that wearing a mask doesn’t do much to protect the wearer. Oh, sure, it probably helps a little bit, but more than anything else, it protects others. I live a very isolated life, so there aren’t many places I could have picked it up, and I’m certainly showing no symptoms, but, unfortunately, I am in multiple high risk categories with my age and health problems. So, when I wear my mask, it’s not to protect myself, but to protect those around me. In the convenience store nobody said anything about the mask, and nobody assaulted me although sadly that seems to be becoming the norm, but I certainly did get a lot of “stink eye” looks. The funny thing is that this town is largely occupied by the university, and their apparent attitude towards masks certainly shows the level of quality of that institution.

Okay, that’s just my bitterness speaking. But I’m very concerned that even now, as we approach full percentage levels of infection, people, including the president, still don’t take the virus seriously. There are still people who believe the virus is a hoax and follow the president who seems to fear that if the virus is taken seriously it will hurt his chances at re-election. He is ignoring science and his own health advisers as he pushes to open businesses and schools while the experts are calling for caution. Recently he held a convention in a state and refused to call for safety precautions such as face masks, and experts have now reported a statistically significant increase in Coronavirus infections in the state as a direct result of that very convention.

But the bump in infected won’t be restricted to those who attended. Those who became infected at the convention will infect their families, friends and others around them, and those people will go on to infect people around them, and on and on and on.

To me, it feels as if the concern about Covid-19 is dropping off precipitously, even as infection rates are soaring increasingly high. Personally I blame the mixed messages from the government between politicians staking their future on downplaying the seriousness of the virus and hoping people will dismiss it and the medical and scientific community working to convince people to protect each other.

The institution where I am an adjunct professor has elected to open up in the fall for in-person classes. I’m torn about it. As a chemistry professor, I know there are some experiences, such as labs, that lose significant impact online, but I also have been predicting that there would be a significant increase in cases once the country begins to open back up, a prediction I’m sad came to pass. I can’t help but wonder how the cleaning staff will keep up with disinfection well enough to prevent our own little hot-spot, but I also know that there are many universities, colleges and schools that will do the same especially with the President threatening funding for those schools that do not open back up.

Please watch out for each other.

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