Life in the Times of Pestilence

We have no weapons to fight this war. Our only realistic hope is to hide from the enemy; play dead and hope the beast does not call our bluff. If we confront him, face to face, the best we can do is survive; the worst we can do is declare victory and gleefully thump our chests in self-congratulatory celebration, all the while sharing hugs and becoming accomplices to murder and mayhem.

This is an odd experience, one in which love is shown by avoidance and distance. Some people will react with anger to such expressions of concern, viewing exclusion as rejection, as opposed to its new definition: affection. Others will be joyous; finally, the world will acknowledge the value of their seclusion and aloofness will become a mark of superiority.

In this new world, in which a caress is akin to an assault, we will be forced to rethink our vocabularies and our cultural inclinations. Isolation will morph into a term of endearment. Abandonment will become the ultimate act of love. A gentle squeeze becomes as abhorrent as swinging an axe or thrusting a knife or firing a bullet. Turning one’s back to another person may be interpreted as a decisive act of respect. Kissing a baby could be punishable by imprisonment or worse.

Before this surreal new world comes to pass, though, the young will take their revenge against their elders. The young will make them pay, the ones who frittered away the environment and eviscerated the planet upon which the young will be forced to regrow. The elders will watch in horror as the young ignore pleas for social distance, opting instead to engage intensely in physical contact with one another and then laugh in the faces of the elderly, spraying them with virus-infused aerosols.

I remember what it was like being young and coping with a compassion-deficit-disorder. When I grew up I made up for it, but discovered the corrective was somewhat skewed; overly compassionate with some people and mercilessly cruel to others. That’s a little like our new-found virus, isn’t it? Almost fond of some people and malevolent in the extreme to others.

Coping with life in the times of pestilence will be an exercise in dancing on the pointed ends of needles, I think. One false move and the sharpness will transform the dancer into a howling kebab.


And now, a completely different communique:

News reports offer little in the way of real hope. Some of the reports make half-hearted attempts to look on the bright side, but it seems to me those positive slants were dictated by editors rather than arising naturally from the minds of the writers. But this morning I wonder whether some of the negativity in comparing country infection figures fails to account for differences in population between countries? (Is this just me, looking for silver linings behind bitterly grey clouds sprinkled with loathing and rage?)

Whatever the reason for my curiosity, I’ve been updating a chart that compares the experience of Italy—which is undergoing a catastrophic failure of its healthcare system in response to COVID-19—to the USA. I originally encountered the chart three or four days ago. The chart suggested the USA’s experience was tracking with Italy’s, based on “days-out” from original first infection, almost exactly. The implication (and, I believe, the explicit assertion) of the person who created the chart was the the USA should expect its healthcare system to experience the same catastrophic failure as Italy’s unless draconian steps are taken immediately.

I agreed with the writer, as I looked at the chart. Given the other grave predictions I’ve been reading, it just seemed to make perfectly good sense.

Until this morning, when I decided to compare Italy’s population (60.4 million) to that of the USA (327.2 million). Hmmm.

The dates of comparison would equate the USA status as of March 17 (6135 confirmed cases) with the Italian status as of March 6 (4636 confirmed cases). The incidence per population figures translate into 0.007665 percent for Italy and 0.001875 for the USA.
So, Italy’s number of confirmed cases as a percentage of population was 4.08 times the number for the USA as of the same number of days since reported first case. (assuming my numbers are correct).

What does that mean? I’m not sure. But I assume it should be a reassuring figure. Maybe.

A number of other factors could come into play. Population density. Cultural differences in the amount of personal space accepted and expected between people. I suspect the list of potentially intervening factors could go on and on.

This is Life in the Times of Pestilence, it is.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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One Response to Life in the Times of Pestilence

  1. Millie says:

    You, John Swinburn, leave me breathless with your wordsmithing.

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