Now is the time we ought to listen to Tom Quinn, and not because he’s my niece’s father-in-law.
It just so happens that he is, but that’s not why you ought to listen to him. If my niece were married to Lionel Ritchie’s son, I wouldn’t insist you play Commodores’ albums.
No, Dr. Quinn is not a Commodore, and I would have to ask my sister whether he even is a fan of the Commodores. I only met him once, at Sean and Saroj’s wedding, so I don’t know his taste in music. I do know he knows a lot about a particular subject in the news lately.
Which is, infectious disease, a term I think more suited for the situation than pandemic, which sounds too much like "panda," implying cute and cuddly, the very opposite of the behavior prompted by this coronavirus. Or "pandemonium," which suggests something ungoverned by law of nature, an unpredictable fast-moving chaos, which it also is not.
COVID -19 follows rules, it obeys laws, it does what it does because it is a disease. It infects, at a tempo, as many as it can, and what happens is well-documented.
But not perfectly understood. Doctors like Quinn know a lot about this, how microscopic viruses hide in droplets, which each of us secrete and share when we socialize. What happens when these tiny particles land, how they travel, whether in heavily armored floating vessels or flimsy refugee rafts, much of that is grasped by Quinn and his colleagues. As director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Global Health, his expertise infectious diseases and international health, he knows about as much as a doctor can know on the subject, some of it to a point of near-certainty. And as for what he doesn’t know, you can trust his best guesses.
The rest of us, all mere deckhands on this ship as the ranking officers seek consensus over how to navigate the battle plan, increasingly know a lot about infectious disease, too. Or we just think we know. Bear in mind, things we think we know, but which are wrong, are worse than not knowing what is right. At least we can seek illumination in these instances; the alternative is permanent darkness.
It is safe to say, and I am speaking here also to my 3-year-old great-niece and her newborn baby brother, all sheltered in place with the Quinn family in the high-risk San Francisco area, that this is what is going on here. The medical contributions of their grandfather and his peers have the national urgency of a Manhattan Project many decades ago, which brought together the nation’s best physicists and engineers, to create a weapon bigger and badder than ever devised. Or the eradication of polio, an infection that maimed many children worldwide when it reached pandemic proportions in the first half of the 20th century.
The breakthroughs that squelch such scourges are made possible by the drawing together of the sharpest minds on the matter. They chart the course, they create the weaponry, and they shape the social policies needed now more immediately than ever, against a wily, evasive enemy. There’s a lot they can do, way more than anyone else on this sickness-ridden planet.
What they can’t do is do it alone. They’ve got to have soldiers, and they have to have a lot of them. All obeying orders, to the best of their ability. That’s where we come in. They are the generals, we are the troops.
By we, I mean all of us, not just health care people although they’re the ones storming the beaches here. All who want to fight the good public health fight. Even if it’s not a big deal to you, or even if you see it through a rigid, reflexive political lens that you consider important, we can agree to not fight amongst ourselves. Now is the time to wash our hands, and now is the time to care for the sick.
Now is also the time to distance ourselves socially. Think of the opportunity here. Be honest, for many of us social distancing is blissful. For others, it is a pulling away from those we hold dear and so it hurts. I’m in-between on this. There are people you miss when they’re not around, and those you wish were not around. In either case, distancing is something we have to do.
Keeping your distance from someone who could be a carrier might mean you have to put space between you, and you. Don’t assume you’re making all these sacrifices to protect you. Assume you are protecting others from you. To do this right, one must accept that even with all our wonderful traits and effervescent personalities, we are still just flesh and blood, illustrations in a medical textbook, a superfluous anecdote amidst a massive sample, a single digit in a statistic.
As far as numbers go, we also can agree there are many more plausible diseases that could strike us, given our habits. Now that’s a good use of everyone’s isolation time. Try focusing on the more likely causes of our own demise. This does not have to be morbid, just a reality-based assessment of individual health. If you like yours, keep it, and if you don’t, then see what you can do to change it.
It’s the same thing with kids being out of school, another affected chunk of our community’s life. This may sound simplistic, but weeks out of school is not the place where learning goes to die. It’s the place where it is reborn.
Look at your child, or at the person you married, at the walls of your home and the windows in your rooms, and ask yourself, am I giving my child the best I can? Is my family in the state it could be? What am I doing to be a part of it all?
We have to be willing to cooperate if we’re going to succeed with this protecting of our precious protoplasm. We have to do our best to do it in a way that keeps society healthy, mentally and morally, and manners and conscience intact.
We can get this done, and "flatten the curve." Even if it means working the "Night Shift." Of course if the virus is :Stuck on You," it may not be "Easy." But in the long run, some day soon, we can all "Sail On" down the line with the Commodores. And who doesn’t like the Commodores?