By Pauline Kerr
As the second wave of COVID-19 gathers momentum, there is likely an anti-mask demonstration happening somewhere right now, and even more likely, a gathering of 20-somethings that violates all the rules about wearing masks, distancing and number limits.
These are not normal times, but we can live a fairly normal life if we play by the rules. The price of keeping ourselves and our families healthy until an effective vaccine becomes available is not particularly onerous, especially when one compares this virus to previous ones that have plagued humankind throughout history.
First of all, we know a lot more about COVID-19 than the ancient Athenians knew about the plague that struck down an estimated 100,000 people around 430 B.C., or the Black Death that came later and was thought to have wiped out half the population of Europe.
We are not terrified of something murderous and evil inflicted on humanity by capricious gods or even local Satan-worshipping fiends. We do not try to avoid plague’s ravages by wearing religious symbols or sacrificing goats. We know the disease does not come wafting in the windows on nights of the full moon.
Modern science has shown us what the enemy looks like, and has told us how it spreads – and how to stop its spread. We may not understand all that much about viruses in the grand scheme of things, but we know infinitely more about them than at any other time in history.
This one spreads by human contact. Avoiding transmission requires distance. Covering one’s nose and mouth helps a lot. So does washing one’s hands frequently.
We must remember that the deadly Ebola outbreak in 2014-2016 was largely brought under control by bleach and personal protective equipment.
Given all that we know about COVID-19, we have to question the magical thinking connected to this virus that seems to hearken back to a pre-scientific age.
For example, there are some who deny the existence of the virus because they do not know anyone who has had it. Instead of thanking their lucky stars they live in an area where numbers are relatively low, they have decided the pandemic is fake, a conspiracy cooked up by evil politicians and their medical minions. Their distant ancestors were undoubtedly the people who blamed smallpox outbreaks on weird old women who brewed magic potions and talked to cats.
There are some who think their status as spoiled, young and prosperous makes them immune, that COVID-19 affects only the old and inner-city poor. There were people in New York in the late 1800s who thought wealth protected them from typhoid, too. Some of them discovered otherwise after they hired an Irish cook named Mary Mallon, known to history as “Typhoid Mary.”
Diseases may spread more easily in crowded, poverty-stricken areas but plague has felled kings and queens. There are untold millions of graves of people who depended on magic – symbols, talismans, their wealth or status – to protect them from the various plagues that have brought civilizations to their knees.
The fact is, a virus does not care if the person it infects is good or evil, rich or poor, beautiful or ugly, brilliant or ordinary.
COVID-19, while not the most virulent of plagues, has claimed the lives of stars of stage and screen, and made many more ill. It has truck princes, both of royal blood and industry, and will continue to do so until immunity is achieved, not by waving a magic wand but through a vaccine.
Distancing, hand washing and wearing masks are not magic; they, too, are based on science. They will provide real protection while we await a vaccine.
Claiming COVID-19 is a conspiracy, masks threaten freedom, vaccines are dangerous and large gatherings should be a matter of choice are magical thinking at their worst. Lives will be lost because of them.
As for gargling or washing with bleach, taking chloroquine in the form of aquarium cleaner, and consuming colloidal silver – they are deadlier than COVID-19. A Dark Ages-style magic incantation would be an improvement.