Hope for Italy?

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Roma 11OCT23 6440

   I was beginning to have hope for Italy. Saturday through Tuesday they had about 3,500 new Coronavirus cases each day, which was a promising sign that their lockdown might be finally bearing fruit. But Wednesday it jumped off that plateau to 4,207 new cases, Thursday it was at 5,322,  and yesterday (Friday) it was 5,986. Granted, from the time they started the lockdown you should allow 5-12 days (the range I’ve seen) for people already infected to start showing symptoms. In other words, there would have been a bunch of cases baked in. The full lockdown began March 9, which was 12 days ago. So the real key is what happens over the next few days. If the lockdown has the intended effect, today should be the last day at which the baked-in infections should manifest, and the plateau really should begin to form tomorrow. But it’ll be another week before you can authoritatively say that the exponent has dropped below 1, and the curve definitely turns downward. There are several problems with lockdowns comparable to Italy’s in the US: 

The Denier Problem

   There is a segment of the US population that was quite large just a couple weeks ago that deny the novel coronavirus is much different from the flu. Some even say it’s just the common cold. Here’s what the World Health Organization says: Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is a new strain that was discovered in 2019 and has not been previously identified in humans. Conflating COVID-19 with the common cold is akin to conflating a tiger and a house cat by saying “they’re both cats.” True. But one can kill you. I hope and believe that this segment is dropping in number as more people are turning to the stern reality of the situation. But those who are still Deniers to some degree are less likely to heed the warnings and may become carriers.

The Denouncer Problem

   There is a counter-segment of the US population who oppose the Deniers and denounce them vigorously, early, and often. The debates that rage in person and online suck massive energies away from doing things that actually give us a better chance of flattening the curve. This wasted time and energy is almost as damaging as the denials. If you’re a Denouncer and the facts emerging now highlight how wrong your opponents have been, the worst thing you could do is rub their noses in it because doing so prolongs their harmful denials. So just shut up, already! We need all hands on deck; both Deniers and Denouncers should become Doers. It is especially unfortunate that this pandemic is occurring in an election year in the US. But put that aside for now; if we flatten the curve, you can pick the campaign back up later in the year.

The Young Don't-Care Problem

   The #BoomerRemover hastag that sprang up a few days ago highlights the fact that there is a segment of younger people in the US who believe “we  should just party on and let the old folks die.” Here’s one example:

   Wednesday morning I posted this on Facebook: Why the Young Should Care - The news has been filled with stories of revelry over the weekend by those who regard #COVID19 as the #BoomerRemover and think it won’t hurt them. If you’re one of them, consider this: The more irresponsible your behavior, the more draconian the authorities will be in their responses. And the combination of wider spread & tougher response will do more damage to the economy. So in a worst-case world with few Boomers left, it’ll be you guys left to deal with wreckages of world economies for a long time to come. The bottom line is this: we’re all in this together. Let’s all be responsible.

   To which a young guy from Colorado who I don’t know commented: Did you know our planet is dieing because of your generations inability to change so here food for thought if you want someone to care about your future you have to do the same .. but you didnt so we wont either an eye for an eye makes the world go round thats the truth of life.

The Old Don't-Care Problem

   There’s an even more inexplicable subsegment of the “don’t care” group, and that’s the older people who are gravitating to bars and restaurants operating in defiance of the closing orders. I really don’t understand why those of an age known to be more likely to die from this stuff knowingly put themselves at risk like this. I haven’t spoken to anyone in this segment to find out why they’re behaving this way, but can only speculate that it has something to do with fierce independence and the thought that “nobody’s gonna tell me what to do.” Or maybe they’re thinking “we’re gonna die anyway; might as well live it up so long as we’re alive.”

   Both Don’t-Care sub-segments present big problems because of the virulence of the exponential spread of this disease. Little numbers are becoming big numbers very quickly with this thing. Look at how much of the history of AIDS was driven by that one Canadian flight attendant. And then imagine hundreds of thousands or maybe even a few million Don’t-Care carriers of COVID-19. Do I think this will run on until it kills us all someday? Emphatically no. There are a number of dampening factors that will kick in at some point, even though there are indicators that getting it once doesn’t confer longterm immunity. So someone could keep getting it until it weakens and kills them. But humanity will survive… the real question is what will society look like on the other side?

The Delay Problem

   But back to Italy. Let’s say that the Italian lockdown doesn’t produce results beginning tomorrow. Nations, states, and cities now considering lockdowns as robust as Italy’s could be swayed to say “if the lockdown doesn’t do the job in Italy, why do it here?” We’ve all seen the Italians singing, but we’ve also seen stories of the hardships of a real lockdown. This is a very real danger.

   It’s likely the Italian lockdown eventually will succeed, let’s say in another two weeks. We don’t know this virus very well yet, and it may not play according to our playbook. If people see a failure to plateau beginning tomorrow and steer away from more robust measures, they’re not only delaying starting them for two weeks (or however long it takes) but before that even happens, they have to start up the conversation again. Like an ocean tanker, you can’t turn this stuff on a dime. So let’s say the conversation restarts in two weeks and the measures that could be taken now are taken in three weeks. Three weeks ago yesterday, the global death toll outside of China was 107. Yesterday that number was 8,132. Seventy-six times larger! 282 have died so far in the US from COVID-19. 282 x 76 = 21,432 people dead. See how quickly this blows up?

   So Italy really is key. Everyone should watch closely what happens there beginning tomorrow. Will the plateau start to form? America should certainly hope so, in order that we make the best choices. And all other affected nations that are wavering as well.

   ~Steve Mouzon

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© Stephen A. Mouzon 2020