Pouring my coffee early one morning in late February, I heard the local radio station report that Washington State had passed the 5000 covid19 deaths mark in basically one year. A grim, sad number indeed. The report announced there would be a tribute in the next few days to honor the dead.
And the survivors.
Wait a minute, I thought. That is me.
My encounter with covid19 was a 3-hour fever and day in bed. That was it. Hardly worthy of the survivor moniker. I was wiped out by flu in college 40 years ago, not leaving the sofa for a week, and no one called me a survivor then.
But according to estimates at the time of writing, about 100 million people in the USA have been infected with covid19 and there have been just over 500,000 deaths. That is a survival rate of around 99.5%. Now if you are one of the around 30% of people who recover from Ebola, or you beat back cancer, then survivor you deserve to be called.
Let’s first acknowledge the obvious. 0.5% is a low percentage, but in absolute terms it is a large number of people, many who have died unnecessarily due to incompetent politics-driven behavior and ignorance. And some ‘survivors’ experience long term effects — I know someone myself.
In reality covid19 causes a mild to moderate illness in the vast majority of people and 99.5% recover. So why are they labeled survivors. It is like calling a minor fender bender participant a car crash survivor.
This however is not the narrative that the rightly called Project Fear promotes.
We all know Project Fear promoters. They are friends and family and epidemiologists. They boast of only visiting supermarkets at 6am, sanitizing all purchases and immediately showering and washing all clothes worn outdoors. They only get their hair cut by close family. Ideally outside. Visiting a hairdresser is deemed likely to be a death sentence. And all social media posts mention their covid-safe behavior. Along with the mandatory masked photograph to hammer home the point.
In Washington State, our hilariously double-masked Governor Inslee, who is as comprehensible as Kenny in South Park, is a prime Project Fear promoter.
His Monty Python-esque press conferences — “Speak up!”, “What did he say?”, “Blessed are the Cheesemakers” — prove he can say “science” and “data” repeatedly, but actually has no idea what either mean. This was perfectly exemplified in January when it quicky became clear that his “Healthy Washington — Roadmap to Reopen” plan was in fact a staying closed - road map to nowhere plan. Unexpectedly, the ‘science’ changed overnight to allow essentially the Democratic counties to enter the next phase with limited business reopening, while the rest of the Republican counties had to remain locked down.
Note to Governor Inslee, that’s politics, not science.
The ultimate product of Project Fear is the Sheeple of Seattle. Sheeple are easy to spot — they wander alone down deserted streets, face coverings firmly in place, scanning the horizon for potential encounters with unmasked predators.
Occasionally a rebel Sheeple lowers their guard (mask), but on the first sight of another living being, or even worse a runner or cyclist, they invoke the covid wave. In a flash, the chin diaper is transitioned to a fully protective facial covering. This ensures there is no chance of a deadly infection from a transient, approximately one second sidewalk encounter in a turbulent outdoor environment.
Note to Sheeple — this is not how infections happen. Let us apply common sense. The CDC advise that drives mobile apps such as WA Notify (what happened to WA Notify?) deems a potentially dangerous encounter with an infected person to be “within about 6 feet for 15 minutes or more during contagious period”. You need this time to be exposed to the viral load necessary for an infection.
1 second is 1/900th of 15 minutes. For an outdoor encounter at sidewalk width, with relative velocities and wind, what is the likelihood of acquiring the necessary viral load? Go figure.
Still, like everything in our current crazy society today, Project Fear has an equal and opposite reaction. Project Denial.
You don’t have to go far from Seattle Sheeple habitat to see Project Denial in action. One December evening, with the state in lockdown, we walk past an arena in Eastern Washington where once we used to watch the wonderful sport of Roller Derby. Now it is a church. The parking lot is full, and peeking through the doors we see a solid 100+ unmasked followers huddled together and socializing.
I guess you just got to have faith.
200 miles further east, there is apparently no pandemic in Northern Idaho. Despite widely publicized city and county mask mandates, life is pretty much normal, and mandates are totally ignored. We walk masked into a supermarket in the small town of Wallace, and children stand and stare as if we had just climbed out of spaceship. Here, ironically, we are the Seattle Sheeple.
In nearby Kellogg, after an excellent day of skiing we dare to venture into our favorite dive bar, Ernies. By now we know what to expect. “You’re not in Seattle now” says the burly bearded drinker sat at the bar, with a big grin on his face. He’s one of maybe 20 people in a small, enclosed room — not a mask in sight.
Our plan is clear — acquire drinks and head to the outdoor smoking deck — and is successfully enacted in less than a minute. We sip our beers, watch the 20F snow fall on the high school football field, and have some very amusing discussions with the locals. Not surprisingly, the pandemic was not a topic of conversation.
The next day we ski with a friend who lives in the area. He tells us stories of Project Denial followers who discovered this virus is no joke to aged populations. One acquaintance had died, another had been in hospital for 6 weeks.
In this game, you pays your money and takes your chances, I guess.
And in recent days, Project Denial made a big step forward with removal of all restrictions in Texas and Mississippi. Other states are sure to follow soon. Maybe common sense would dictate they wait another month or two for the effect of vaccinations to seriously take hold?
In this coronavirus world, common sense is dead.
Getting out of this Mess
With close to a third of the country recovered from the virus, and the rate of vaccinations accelerating daily, the end of this pandemic is in sight. However, instead of painting a realistic picture of the path to normality, Project Fear is doubling down and amping up the rhetoric.
New variants are the vehicle — more transmissible, more deadly, vaccine resistant maybe? The Brazilian variant, with I assume side-effects of sudden pubic hair loss, is the prime target. The UK variant, which surely induces excessive politeness, is equally scary. And there will no doubt be more. That’s what viruses do. They mutate. I dread the New Jersey variant. I’ve seen The Sopranos.
In the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson’s Government is bucking Project Fear. They have painted a vaccine-driven, cautious but optimistic path to normality. June 21st is the day when they plan to lift all restrictions.
Boris of course has a solid history of over promising and under achieving. Based on the Summer planning of my friends and family there, rebellion will ensue if he fails.
As Marty Makary wrote in the Wall Street Journal, herd immunity through the combination of natural infection and vaccination is likely approaching fast. We need our Governors and scientists to paint a path to normality and explain the risks that will remain. We aren’t going to ‘defeat’ this virus as our no doubt soon to be triple-masked Governor keeps saying. (If two masks are better than one, then three must surely be better than two. You know it makes sense).
As the UK Health Minister said recently, personal responsibility, as opposed to restrictive laws, is going to kick in soon. After all, our Governments still allow people to indulge in known deadly activities such as smoking, which kills 480,00 Americans each year. Or driving, which kills around 36,000 annually in the USA, and required over 4 million people to have medical treatment.
Am I the only one who sees a disconnect here?
In the meantime we are now treated to the unedifying spectacle of Governor Inslee visiting schools in Washington State in an attempt to convince the Seattle Sheeple teachers that it is safe to return to the classroom. Not surprisingly they are not buying it. After months of being told by epidemiologists that anything more than getting out of bed to go to the kitchen without a mask is likely to cause death to 100s, they are reluctant to spend 6 hours a day in a classroom with 20 students.
It’s not really surprising.
With Sheeple, Governor Inslee, you reap what you sow.