Craig Silberman: COVID-19 denial — prolonging the agony
“If you don’t eat yer meat, you can’t have any pudding. How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat yer meat?” Many of us recognize this Pink Floyd lyric and remember our parents telling us we couldn’t have dessert until we finished our dinner.
The same is true for many things in life, as you have to do the work in order to earn the rewards. Reopening schools, businesses, churches, and other venues is the reward for defeating the pandemic. But today many people in the county want to lift all restrictions while the pandemic is still raging. Such a reckless move would result in many more infections and deaths.
COVID-19 denial, like climate denial, has several motivations. One is political: people adopt the position held by the political party with which they identify. One is implicatory: accepting certain beliefs requires a behavior change they don’t like, so it’s easier to simply deny that belief.
Just as climate deniers choose that position so they don’t have to drive less or recycle more, COVID deniers choose their position so they don’t have to wear masks or socially distance themselves from others. Once people have decided they’re going to deny the severity of the pandemic and the health threat it poses, they seek out information to support their beliefs while dismissing anything that might contradict them.
How often have you heard or read “it’s just the flu” or “it’ll go away after the election” or “the death rate is only 0.17%,” how about “masks don’t do anything” or “it’s my choice” or “if I get it I get it; we’re all going to die one day anyway?” These statements are made by people who ignore the facts — or distort them — and dismiss the advice of public health experts.
The truth is that 4% of closed cases (those for which the patient either recovered or died) resulted in death. That’s 20 times worse than the flu. Where did the inaccurate figures come from?
First of all, some people are dividing deaths into total cases, which makes no sense, since half those cases remain active, and their outcome has yet to be determined. Second, many have glommed on to the CDC report that in only 6% of cases was COVID-19 the only symptom. Deniers misinterpret that to mean that 94% died of something else. That’s as wrong as saying someone with diabetes who dies in a car accident was killed by the diabetes, not the crash. Or saying that the death toll from 9/11 was only 500 people, since the rest had high blood pressure, or some other preexisting condition.
Masks save lives. It’s that simple. An infected person — whether or not they know they’re infected — wearing a mask will spread just a tiny amount of viruses if their mask is being worn properly. While a healthy person will inhale far less airborne viruses if he or she is wearing a mask, meaning they may not get infected or may have milder symptoms because they received a smaller load.
As for personal choice and individual liberties, those have always been interpreted as stopping when they infringe on the liberties of others. If your reckless behavior only endangered you, I wouldn’t care what you did. But when you shop at the same grocery stores or pharmacies I do, then the viruses you pick up in the bars and gyms are endangering me and others who’ve not made the choice to expose ourselves.
The pandemic won’t “end after the election.” The only ones politicizing the pandemic are those denying it. It’s not a hoax created to discredit one person. It’s insane to believe that nearly forty million people worldwide pretended to catch the virus and one million died just so that one person in the U.S. wouldn’t get reelected. As for that one person, and the job he did, one only needs to look at the numbers to gauge success or failure.
The United States, with only 4% of the world’s population, has over 20% of the world’s COVID-19 cases and deaths. Our death-per-capita rate is six times worse than the rest of the world. Only a handful of nations are worse, and not by much. The president claims his leadership prevented two million deaths, but there’s no basis for such a claim. Had that occurred, the U.S. would have over 70% of the world’s deaths. Our death-per-capita rate would have been 60 times the rest of the world.
In fact, the absence of national leadership and a national policy has left each state’s governor to determine their own course of action, with many of them fighting both the virus and political pressure from the president to ignore the advice of public health experts. The president has never stopped mocking the wearing of masks, even though the head of the CDC testified to Congress that wearing a mask could be a better defense than a vaccine. The president has never stopped downplaying the severity of the pandemic, nor has he backed off his calls to reopen schools, resume sports, and reopen all the churches and businesses — even though crowded indoor spaces are the most likely place that virus transmission is going to occur.
There is not a person in the country who doesn’t want this to end. Every one of us wishes we could resume our normal pre-pandemic lives. But wishing, like denial, isn’t going to work. We have to put in the effort. Other countries can serve as examples both of what to do and what not to do. Had we made the effort back in the spring, we could be reaping the benefits today.
But our shutdowns were half-hearted, and then lifted too early. Even now, as many states re-institute some restrictions because of the resurgence of cases, too many people keep denying the obvious connection between cause and effect. We’ve managed to make both the pandemic and the adverse economic consequences last as long as possible. It’s hard to imagine what we could be doing differently that would result in a less favorable outcome.
I wish I had a suggestion to fix all of this. Obviously, listening to public health experts like Fauci and Redfield — professionals with decades of education and experience, and no hidden agendas — is what we need to do. But how do we convince the deniers of that? If I had the answer to that question, I would also convince them their climate denial is mistaken too.
Craig Silberman lives in Grass Valley.
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