In 2013, workers digging a new high-speed rail underneath London unearthed a 14-century plague pit holding 25 victims of the Black Death. The discovery allowed researchers to extract DNA from the victims’ teeth and identify the deadly disease — Yersinia Pestis, which surprisingly is still around and simply treated by antibiotics. The infamous plague was originally believed to have been spread by fleas hitching rides from rats on ships returning from Asia, but given the new information, scientists now think that Black Death wasn’t spread by fleas but by people. That’s right, the infamous Great Plague killed roughly half the population of Europe because human beings didn’t have the sense or decency to cover up their mouths when they coughed or sneezed.
In other words, a catastrophe of global proportions was entirely preventable.
“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose,” as the great French journalist Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr observed. Translated: “The more things change, the more they remain the same.”
From the moment the COVID-19 microbe flew the coop from its animal host and settled into patient zero in Wuhan, China, human beings on a global scale have been remarkably obtuse in dealing with this disease. Governments were slow in their reactions. Opinion leaders were cavalier in their risk assessments. And, a small but critical number of people were simply fool-hardy for underestimating their responsibility in containing the coronavirus’ spread. And, just to be clear, this stunning level of hubris is not confined to one country or culture. The stupidity is truly global.
Well, here’s our chance to engage in some real-time evolution, using a few lessons we learned in kindergarten. Let’s review:
Whether or not you have the coronavirus, everyone should cover their mouths at all times when they cough or sneeze with their arms and not their hands. This is literally elementary, and yet so many fail to practice this simple act of consideration. A cough or sneeze shoots aerosolized microbes floating into the air we breathe, long after the disgusting slob has left the mini-hot zone. And, don’t think sneezing into a tissue or your hand is just as effective as the crook of your arm. A microscopic virus shot at 100 miles per hour can blast through a tissue and live on your hand until you transfer it to a door handle, railing or whatever. You don’t touch anything with the crook of your arm.
Whatever you do, don’t touch your face with your hand. Your mouth, nose and even eyes are vulnerable entries into your body. If you have a habit of rubbing your mouth or putting your fingers near or (eew) in your nose, today is the day you need to break it. The greatest benefit of a facemask is not filtering the air you breathe but protecting you from yourself.
Finally, just wash your hands. Sanitizer is great, but soap works, too. Soap emulsifies the fat, of which microbial walls are made. When you rub soap on those cell walls, you literally burst the bubbles of these little critters.
Now, maybe you’re thinking these simple sanitation steps have been sufficiently communicated. Given the rapid spread of the coronavirus around the world, it seems not enough people are listening.
If you are part of the at-risk population – older adults (60 and over) or have underlying medical conditions like heart disease or diabetes, you need to take this disease seriously. A Harvard epidemiologist projects that 20 to 60 percent of the world’s population will get coronavirus. Most those people will experience mild symptoms. That may not be you. If you are part of that at-risk group, the coronavirus could be incredibly painful, scary and quite possibly deadly. As impossible as it sounds, it’s probably best to self-isolate or at least severely limit as much human contact as possible until this thing blows over.
Now, here is the time when Suffield can prove its community mettle.
We all know someone who is a member of the aforementioned at-risk group. And, maybe, members of that at-risk group have given every indication that they’re up for weathering this coronavirus storm. That doesn’t prevent you from offering help. They might politely dismiss the offer, but they’ll definitely remember it. A lot can change between now and a month from now. In a crisis, that offer could make all the difference in the world.
When faced with events of global proportions, you may feel powerless. That is not true. You are part of an extended community – from your home to the world, and your influence radiates from wherever you are. You can help make things better. It starts with simple acts of kindness and consideration and could stretch beyond this unprecedented episode.
Be careful. Be smart. Be brave. Be thoughtful of others.