The COVID pandemic is new for most of us. I certainly was not around for the last one, the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, and I’m not likely to be around for the next.
When people are faced with something completely alien to our experience, we naturally look for ways to make it fit within our existing view of the world. We revert to the familiar, equating what is new with something we already know, using the familiar as a guide to understand and respond to what now confronts us.
To some on the right, the government response is the problem, while to some on the left, President Trump is the problem. But the virus doesn’t care.
SARS-Cov-2, the virus which causes COVID 19, is the fire. And we are the fuel.
Just as fire cannot exist without a fuel source, the virus cannot long live outside of a human host.
The challenge before us is to separate the fire from its fuel, allowing the fire to burn itself out.
The evidence from Europe is clear: social distancing, minimizing interactions, better hygiene in the form of handwashing, and masks, when taken together, separate the fire from the fuel.
Our social media circles are self-reinforcing echo chambers, and many of the most successful and influential posts hack into our existing biases while the lack of accountability removes fidelity to the truth. Facebook is a poor educator, and many of our feeds are filled with all varieties if misinformation, disinformation, falsehoods, and nonsense when it comes to today’s pandemic.
The virus doesn’t care about competing claims about masks, death rates, or the efficacy of social distancing. When the 2003 Cedar Fire tore through my neighborhood it too didn’t care about spin. Fire burns, and so does this virus. We must confront it how it is, not how we wish it to be.
Europe’s success in bringing COVID-19 cases and deaths to a small fraction of the rates we see in America today demonstrate the success of the best practices recommended by medical professionals. Yes, that advice has changed since the pandemic first appeared, but that is because our understanding of the virus – how this plague behaves – has improved. This is a new disease never before seen. Collectively, it took our medical community time to understand it. But now we know, even as that understanding of this new disease continues to improve.
The CIA did not kill President Kennedy. The 9/11 attacks were not an inside job. And masks are not some communist plot to control the masses. Medicine doesn’t have the luxury of spin. That’s what politicians do.
Medical professionals and epidemiologists aren’t politicians– thankfully. Don’t go to a doctor who will spin you about your diagnosis – go to a doctor who tells the truth.
The truth is that just as late summer and fall wildfires in Southern California can be so destructive because of the hot, dry Santa Ana winds which can propel burning embers up to a mile, SARS-Cov2 is so destructive because it rides on the winds of our breathing, speaking, coughing, sneezing and even singing. The SARS-CoV2 virus is more resilient than the flu virus, which is why it is more easily spread. This is the equivalent of hot embers burning hotter and longer – increasing the spread of fire. Boosting the distance the virus needs to travel to find a new fuel source, while decreasing the “wind” using masks, causes the fire to burn itself out. That technique works, and we need to do more of it.
For the sake of our economy, and our sanity, we need to bring this pandemic under control quickly. Economic lockdowns are destructive and can be avoided by masking, distancing and hygiene. Yet, no degree of economic normalcy and productivity will return until people again have the confidence to venture out and engage in commerce, and with one another. The current surge in COVID-19 cases negates economic activity even while most businesses can be open.
Like any wildfire, this pandemic will not be here forever. We will get past it. But to do so, and to do so more quickly, we need to take the steps we know work. The steps we must take are as obvious as the approach of fire season. We must separate the fuel from the fire, we must separate the virus from the people it preys upon, so the fire can burn itself out and we can all get past this.
Ron Nehring served as Chairman of the California Republican Party from 2007 to 2011, and was the 2014 Republican nominee for Lt. Governor of California.