For a long time, a surprising number of Americans have substituted ideology for reality. For them, facts are fungible. Science is for suckers.
And some of these same Americans have come to believe that their innate privilege affords them immunity from all manner of unpleasantness. If you’re white and a member of a particular political party, the rules of law, nature, economics, even decency don’t apply.
Ah, but then along came COVID-19 and microbiology doesn’t discriminate.
Of course, the virus is not exactly a great equalizer given that systemic inequality means that black and brown people suffer and die from the disease in far greater numbers than white people. But it is an undeniable, insidious threat to humans of all colors, economic situations and political persuasions.
Jeez, if Sen. Rand Paul, Prince Charles, Von Miller, Lesley Stahl and Pink can get sick with COVID, obviously anybody can.
And some settings, such as restaurants, are particularly prone to higher rates of coronavirus transmission. The science is clear.
Erin Bromage, comparative immunologist and professor of biology at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, cited epidemiological research to demonstrate what happens to COVID-19 inside a restaurant.
In one study, an asymptomatic carrier of COVID-19 dined in a restaurant with nine friends. The carrier infected half of the people seated at that table, 75% of the people at an adjacent table downwind (via the restaurant’s airflow system) and two of the seven diners at the table upwind from where the apparently healthy-looking disease vector was seated.
Then, the virus, clearly a clever little bugger, was locked and loaded, armed to spread to a wider population of other hosts who would come in contact with the infected diners over subsequent days and weeks in family settings and all manner of ordinary human interactions.
Over two months, a single case of COVID-19 can lead to 20,000 infections and 100 deaths, according to Atul Gawande in The New Yorker.
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As we all should have learned in the past two months, this is how pandemics happen, political ideology be damned.
Based on the science, Bromage identified a simple formula for us to evaluate our risk of contracting the disease in various activities. It’s infection = exposure to the virus x time.
In other words, the longer you’re in the company of a COVID-19 carrier in an enclosed space, the more likely you are to be infected.
This is why restaurants – as well as workplaces, indoor sporting events, parties and church services – are especially dangerous places in a pandemic. Unlike someone making a quick trip to the grocery, restaurant patrons stay in the space for an hour or more, breathing the potentially contaminated air as it circulates around them.
It’s why reopening our communities after the outbreak of the past two months must be a delicate data-driven process.
“If we skip over the checkpoints in the guidelines to ‘Open America Again,’ then we risk the danger of multiple outbreaks throughout the country,” Anthony Fauci said last week. “This will not only result in needless suffering and death but would actually set us back on our quest to return to normal.”
“As states reopen and we give the virus more fuel, all bets are off,” she said. “I understand the reasons for reopening the economy, but … if you don’t solve the biology, the economy won’t recover.”
With more than 20,000 confirmed cases and 1,000 deaths in Colorado, and new cases of COVID-19 every day, the biology is hardly “solved.” Even with some restrictions relaxed, Gov. Jared Polis has called for Coloradans to stay at home as much as possible and to wear masks when they go on essential outings.
Polls continue to show that while everyone is deeply concerned about the devastating economic impact of pandemic shutdowns, the vast majority of Americans are worried that states will reopen too quickly and spark a new surge of illness and death that will keep schools from reopening in August and lead to even greater economic havoc.
Germany, Italy, France, Great Britain, Lebanon and other countries are experiencing spikes in new infections after gradually reopening their economies. Leaders there are poised to impose stay-at-home orders all over again.
For weeks, Coloradans have been heroic in their willingness to sacrifice and their commitment to protecting one another.
The groceries delivered to the doorsteps of elderly neighbors, yard signs posted to honor essential workers, happy hours conducted at a distance in driveways, and responsible restaurateurs scrambling to keep their employees safe and their businesses from teetering into bankruptcy all demonstrate our powerful sense of shared humanity.
That’s why the stunning ignorance of the Mother’s Day protesters who packed the house at Castle Rock’s C&C and Korean Kitchen (now known far and wide as COVID & Coffee) is so offensive.
With Colorado House Republican Minority Leader Patrick Neville proudly joining the reckless revelers in defying state orders designed to protect all of us, the Douglas County dissidents proclaimed that our sacrifices are meaningless to them. They just don’t care.
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A few dozen scofflaws determined to flout public safety rules out of willful ignorance or crass political showmanship can seriously undermine our efforts to reopen the economy. Their publicity stunt, which made national news, could make it a long, long time before tourists feel it’s safe to come to Colorado.
The brazen brunchers may portray themselves as freedom fighters. They can rebel against rules imposed for the common good and chant “My body, My choice” all they want.
But in the midst of a pandemic that has swept senior care facilities, food processing plants and family gatherings, they are more accurately perceived as public health terrorists.
They don’t need firearms to be threatening. They’re biological suicide bombers endangering us all.
Diane Carman is a Denver communications consultant.
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