Roger’s Ramblings

SIPing, April edition

I’m conflicted, probably like a lot of people. The whole shelter-in-place thing, or as I call it, SIPing, has split me into at least three parts.

The love-to-travel and enjoy-meeting people part of me is wondering if this will ever end. So far, April has lasted about 150 days. It’s like we’re all part of the cast of Bill Murray’s movie Groundhog Day. Gasoline is the cheapest it’s been since I don’t know when, but there’s nowhere to go.

On the other hand, the cautious me realizes this is a dangerous time. If you want some perspective, read John M. Barry’s The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History. I’m not equating COVID-19 with the deadly flu that ravaged the world in 1918-1920, killing about 675,000 Americans and an estimated 500 million worldwide. For one thing, the medical profession has advanced with modern life-sustaining equipment, we now have antibiotics (that have no effect on a virus), but can treat secondary infections, and a better understanding of viruses. There is a good chance we will eventually have a vaccine and develop therapeutic drugs.

In the interim, all we have to ward off this virus are the same tools used in the battle 100 years ago. That was good hygiene, masks, and social distancing. Headlines from the earlier period are being recycled today: “Wearing of Masks is Made Compulsory,” “All Churches, Shows are Ordered Closed,” “To Close Schools and Theaters to Check Influenza,” and “Funeral Ban is Ordered.”

The Surgeon General in 1918 posted his soundest medical advice of the time, which was to avoid crowds, cover coughs and sneezes, wear masks, and wash your hands. Doctors today haven’t improved on those nuggets.

Many states, including Alabama, decided to fight the pandemic by issuing varying degrees of stay-at-home mandates as a way to “flatten the curve,” but they didn’t necessarily explain why that was important. In a nutshell, flattening the curve only helps to reduce the number of people who are sick at one time, not how many will contract it. It’s meant to keep the hospitals from being overrun with patients, which would make it impossible to provide the best care to everyone.

That’s why I agreed with Gov. Kay Ivey and the state’s health officer when they decided to close businesses or change how some operate. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned COVID-19 is very contagious and easily spread. Fortunately, the data thus far indicates the mortality rate is far less than originally thought, but it is still deadly. Deaths confirmed as COVID-19 related in the U.S. are almost 57,000 as of April 28. It is true that is less than the yearly average of flu deaths, but – and this is a big but – those deaths occurred in only two months. We won’t know the yearly toll for 10 more months.

The third me recognizes the dire economic impact of the shutdown. Here in Alabama, hundreds of thousands have lost their jobs, small businesses have lost millions in income and some may never recover. Families already living on the edge, paycheck to paycheck, are in distress. Charities that had been the last safety net for some have seen their revenue drop, hampering their efforts to assist.

Gov. Ivey stepped to the podium again yesterday and announced a loosening of the current mandates effective at 5 p.m. tomorrow.

I hope it’s the right decision. It’s probably the only decision she could make given the dire economic circumstances. Is it a risk? Yes. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and one of the leading scientists on the federal COVID-19 task force, has predicted another wave.

This will not be over soon. A statement from the CDC says, “Absent a vaccine to protect people against COVID-19, waiting for herd immunity to occur ‘is not a good public health strategy.’” Herd immunity, which is defined by the CDC as “a situation in which a sufficient proportion of a population (up to 90 percent) is immune to an infectious disease (through vaccination and/or prior illness) to make its spread from person to person unlikely.”

I will always listen to the scientists before I do the politicians. I can only hope the politicians do the same. I can’t control anyone’s behavior but my own, but I ask you to consider this. Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you have to.

We’ve all coped with changes the last few weeks, and I’ve learned that instead of going to Walmart a couple of times a week, once every two weeks is sufficient. When I do venture out, I wear a mask (and will continue), try to maintain social distancing, and practice good hygiene, behavior I hope everyone will continue. Remember, it’s not just you who is at risk, but your loved ones you might infect.