A friend shared with me a video in which the funny yet controversial comedian and political commentator Bill Maher expressed the need for people to get over their fears and timidity when it comes to Covid-19. With his classic sardonic wit he details all of the instances on a daily basis we’re exposed to microorganisms, and that we have the right to life, the right to live our lives, and our current social distancing measures are a bridge too far.
On one hand I agree with Bill’s sentiment, people have a tendency to overreact and even with Covid-19 people choose to overreact. The truth is the Virus has a mortality rate (as of July 20th) around 4%, and it’s climbing. Because Covid-19 is a new virus, we cannot predict its ultimate path.
Are there people who have had Covid who also recovered from it? Yes. But Bill conveniently — perhaps out of ignorance, did not mention the cases of permanent lung damage in survivors, or how his analogy to bacteria falls flat in the face of a virus.
Bacteria and Viruses are both microbes, much in the same way Riyadh and Washington D.C. are both cities. But that’s where the similarities end. E Coli, Staph, Fungal spores, they’re always around us and our immune system has adapted to defeating them. There are times in which even those things can be harmful, like in the case of an open wound — the immune system is overwhelmed and antibiotics are prescribed.
In the case of Viruses however, immunity is a matter of antibodies, not immune system strength overall. A person vaccinated against polio will fare better with a worse immune system than someone who isn’t vaccinated with a healthier one.
Looking at Covid-19, this virus one has a very long incubation period. The Flu begins to present symptoms after 3 days of infection. Covid-19 after 14–21 days. The Flu is contagious once you become symptomatic. Covid-19 is contagious almost immediately, and you can spread it without showing symptoms. Unlike all of Bill’s examples, Covid-19 is airborne, like the Flu. The average viral load of an infected person means they’ll infect two people on average. So exponential growth is roughly linear. 1, 2, 4, 16, 256, 65,536, 4,294,967,296.
^That is why we are quarantining. That is why we are serving food through glass. Bill says that we must protect those with compromised immune systems, but we must also reopen everything and toss everyone to their own fates. Those numbers, that exponential growth could be seen conceivably within 14 weeks. That’s if one infected person infected two healthy people EVERY TWO WEEKS. So we can’t, not with this virus. The incubation period is much too long for us to risk returning to “normal” as if that will ever happen again.
And if the virus mutates, and there’s evidence that suggests it could, we could be dealing with an endemic virus — like the Flu which kills 50 thousand immuno-compromised Americans every year. But there are strains of Flu that will kill you if your immune system is strong. Swine Flu (H1N1) Bird Flu (H5N1) are two strains that kill healthy people at a much higher rate than those with weaker immune systems. Covid has already killed 30 year old health care providers, and one bodybuilder had to be put on a respirator. The thing is the disease breaks down the membrane that keeps your lung’s fluids inside you. Most patients die of complications — asphyxiation by their own bodily fluids, multiple organ system failure, cytokine storm. And that has less to do with your immune system’s health and more do with your own physical makeup. Some of us are allergic to certain foods. Some of us are bedridden when we catch the flu and some of us take longer to recover than others (I caught a nasty cold that lasted 4–5 weeks about 10 years ago).
And we’re now seeing with Covid that while the majority of people are surviving, even among them many have permanent damage to their lungs and many are losing the Covid-19 antibodies meaning they can be reinfected. So this isn’t a virus we want to toy with, you generally don’t want to toy with Viruses, they always do much more damage than Bacteria. Bacteria grows, you can isolate it, cut it out if you need to, directly target it with antibiotics. But viruses lay dormant. They spread throughout your body, hacking healthy cells and hijacking them to create more of themselves. Viruses are always worse, and are always harder to control. That’s why people freak out about Germs, but the CDC freaks out about Smallpox, Ebola, and now Covid-19.
Just before the virus went Pandemic, I met an Epidemiologist who told me that even at that time, the numbers of those sick and dying were being suppressed to prevent panic. Today the numbers are more accurate because social distancing is working and we can be honest about the horrific details, but he told me that they are very concerned about this Coronavirus strain. We’ve had SARS, MERS, and this one SARS-Cov-2 (2019), is further proof that Coronaviruses can and will mutate as viruses in general tend to do. Each new mutation brings a new potential set of problems and the more people we allow it to infect, the greater likelihood we end up with something worse. And that has happened with the flu, but Influenza and Coronavirus are two different families of viruses and the incubation difference as mentioned before makes Covid-19 far more dangerous.
With that said, we need to maintain social distancing. We need to pay people to stay home, $2000 per person per month at least until the end of the year. That will give the Virologists and Bio-Engineers time to synthesize a vaccine. We need to also accept the fact, the reality that “normal” is dead. We’re never going back to normal, even if Covid-19 disappears from the face of the Earth tomorrow, the fact that jobs we were told couldn’t be done from home are in fact doable from home is going to have an impact on owner/worker dynamics moving forward. The “radical” concepts presented by Democratic Presidential hopefuls like Andrew Yang and Senator Bernie Sanders don’t sound so radical now, as over 40 million Americans are out of work, many unable to get relief for bills and are without health insurance. The illusion created by the 9–5 grind has been broken, and Americans are waking up to: systemic racism, injustice, inequality, a failure of government to protect Americans from this virus, a failure of American media and education to dispel the false narratives around the virus, a failure of the justice system to hold the rich and powerful truly accountable while excessively punishing the poor who can’t afford legal representation, people are more cognizant of than ever before. And many Americans are discovering their true feelings on all of these issues, no more able to hide behind the excuse of what’s “appropriate”, and now have the time to protest and to fight for what they believe because our late-stage capitalist system has failed them. 2020 has brought a great deal of tragedy and heartbreak, but this is the first year since 2008 that I feel things will actually change for the better. I am hopeful for the future, but before we can do that we need to address the biggest threat to our long term survival as a nation, and that’s this virus and the misinformation surrounding it pushed by capitalists that want to get back to earning their passive income.