Living in an experiment

I started the morning searching for topics for my daily journal entry that were something besides coronavirus and Covid-19. The problem with that search is that the virus is dominating the news and my own personal thinking. I was trying to avoid the subject because I know that we are all overwhelmed with information right now and that sometimes a diversion is what we need to allow our minds to access the creative thinking that can be so helpful. However, I am not able to come up with a divergent topic.

I want to be clear that I am trying to comply with the rules of social distancing. We have worked as a team of church leaders to make decisions about spending large group worship, ending face to face meetings, deep cleaning of the church building, and other things that are within our control. As a suicide first responder, I have a kit that I always carry in my car that contains personal protective equipment such as face masks and gloves, and I have used them in places where appropriate. I have been practicing social distancing, maintaining distance between myself and others as I go about my daily life. My wife is a skilled seamstress and has made masks that can be washed and reused. We have a large supply of disposable filter material that we insert into the cloth masks.

I have not, however, remained in my house all of the time. I go out every day. We go for walks and we walk in public parks and other public spaces. We are not the only ones doing so. Our city parks are filled with individuals and families riding bikes, walking their dogs, and moving up and down the sidewalks. People are being respectful and keeping their distance.

I view much of what I am doing in a similar manner to the way I view much of airport security. I comply with the security measures at the airport in part because the appearance of security is important to keeping others calm. I don’t want to travel with a group of people who are in a panic. Calming fears and giving the appearance that security measures will protect them is part of moving about in public spaces. So I don’t argue with TSA officials who want to run my shoes through an x-ray scanner even though no shoe bomber has ever been successful and x-rays don’t detect plastic explosives and if they were serious about screening shoes for explosives, it would make more sense to swab the shoes than run them through a scanner. I remove my belt when instructed even though I wear belts with no metal in them or the buckles that can easily be seen on a body scanner and will not trigger a metal detector because an argument in the line is not conducive to maintaining calm.

I will wear a face mask because it might help calm the fears of others, not because there is scientific evidence that non-symptomatic people wearing make has any effect on the transmission of the virus.

We are all living a scientific experiment as we face this pandemic. In science a theory is advanced and then it is tested. One of the theories that is currently being tested is that isolation and social distancing will slow the spread of the virus. This is based upon other evidence that has been tested. Scientists know that the virus is spread through social contact. They know that one of the main vectors of transmission is droplets spread through coughing and sneezing. They also know that the human immune system resists infection and that it takes significant exposure to become ill from the disease spread by the virus. What they do not know for sure and what has not been tested scientifically is whether or not strict rules of social isolation and forcing people to stay inside of a single building will slow the spread of the virus.

In medieval times when the black plague reached its height between 1347 and 1353, people did not know about germ theory or modes of transmission. At that time, without knowing how the plague was spreading, officials in some city-states and regions tried enforced isolation. They closed down towns and allowed no one to come or go. Those with financial means went to country homes and villas and separated themselves from others. In some cases it worked. In most it did not. The isolation theory, however, became a medical technique that was adapted and used in infection control as scientists learned more about how diseases spread.

There are voices on social media who are proposing a reinstatement of the medieval practice, demanding that governors shut down entire states and force people to remain in their homes. Most states in the United States have some form of shelter in place or stay at home order. Ours is one that does not yet have such an order, but it is possible that we will have one before long. Certainly there are voices calling for it. I know of no scientific studies that show that this will be effective in controlling the spread of the virus. We are participating in an experiment.

We do have a control for this gigantic social experiment. In South Korea, a country that experienced a spike in infection and in deaths early in the pandemic, the pandemic was addressed in different ways. South Korea stands out from other countries. In late February and March new infections in the country went from a few dozen to hundreds and thousands. At the peak, they identified 909 new cases in a single day. Then the number of new cases started to decline. Yesterday, South Korea reported only 64 new cases. They seem to have addressed the problem by early intervention, something that has not occurred in the US. They conducted early and often testing. The country has conducted over 300,000 tests a per capita rate of 40 times that of the US. And they did contact tracing. They found out who had been with others. They did not shut down schools, which became places where they could conduct mass testing and where they could teach hygiene. There is much we can learn from South Korea.

The topic is too large for a journal entry and there is more that I will write in the future, but for now, we are all trying our best to live responsibly and make wise decisions. There are a lot of decisions being made that are beyond our control. There are mistakes being made as well as wise choices. We are all in this together.

Toning down the self-righteous scolding of neighbors over the internet wouldn’t hurt, but I know that is too much to expect from people living in fear.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!