I have been puzzling, idly and in spare moments, the last several days, over the nature of protests and how exactly that works in the midst of Pandemia. I am wondering about the notion of double standards.
The first protests we heard about were those aimed not necessarily at the virus itself, but the notion of the virus as dangerous. On its own, a virus is an apolitical entity, generally an opportunistic entity mindlessly looking for a good place to settle in and replicate. Unfortunately for humans, our bodies are often a great place for viruses to do just that.
Viruses almost never stop to question a host’s politics, but based on the American response to this novel coronavirus, you’d never know that. A lot of this appears to have stemmed at least in part from location and proximity. Viruses also like it a lot when we humans gather in close quarters, as we do far more in cities than rural areas.
It also turns out, these days, that the majority of city dwellers skew liberal while an abundance of those in more rural areas lean right in their politics. That’s another of those broad generalizations right there, but it does help explain why this so far has been perceived by a larger-than-expected portion of the population as a liberal problem with the solution foisted on those who don’t perceive it as a problem at all.
One of my several friends named Karen told me yesterday that she recently encountered a woman who essentially assured her this virus is a hoax, and — here the lapses in logic emerge — if a patient is placed on a ventilator it pushes the virus deeper into the lungs (suggesting that the virus is real). But not a single person has died of this virus. When given specific names of local victims, this woman insisted they died of other causes, although I’m not sure she and her non-existent medical degree provided those causes.
We — certainly I — can look at this as an unscientific, uneducated, unthinking position to take, but somewhere around a third of all Americans, including in the highest office in the land, hold views like this. Many of them have not been shy about sharing their displeasure with public health requirements.
While they were at it, they seemed to share a lot of other grievances, much of this in assorted protests: formal protests at statehouses alongside informal versions that took the form of beach parties and business openings in defiance of public health orders.
Much of the other two-thirds of the country, certainly me, looked askance at these protests, considering them dangerous as well as unscientific, uneducated and unthinking. I shouldn’t include unthinking, because they have probably thought about their positions as much as I have about mine, but I cringe at the places where they get a lot of their information.
At any rate, these protests brought people into close proximity as this coronavirus continues it replicative crawl through humanity, and this was regarded by many as dangerous if not stupid.
Then the world watched in horror as a police officer remorselessly crushed George Floyd’s neck under his knee for nearly nine minutes, apparently killing him in full pubic view because of the dark color of his skin.
New protests erupted, huge and pervasive, a movement gone global as people take to the streets by the hundreds of thousands to demand social justice. Gone were the pejoratives “unscientific, uneducated, unthinking”; in their place were “inspirational, overdue, necessary.” Some authorities, even health authorities, specifically came out and classified these protests as “vital.”
Which brought about a wonderment from the earlier protesters: why were their protests dangerous, but these new and on-going protests necessary? Or, if not necessary, at least socially acceptable?
Some arguments suggest these more recent protestors are practicing social distancing, but that was an argument I heard from the president himself about the earlier protests, and in neither case is it particularly true. I am seeing one difference, however, which I really only noticed the other day when I watched footage of a protest in Denver against a legislative bill making it more difficult to opt out of vaccinations.
Anti-vax protestors, who — in another generalization — are arguably of the same mind if not body of those who think the virus is a liberal plot, do not wear masks.
You can’t make another gross generalization and say everyone protesting on behalf of Mr. Floyd is wearing a mask, but it is true that you see a lot more covered faces at those protests.
Which may lead to a giant experiment that would probably be unethical if you lined up people, even voluntarily, to conduct it: are masks really helping stop the spread of covid-19? It’s not an experiment conducted with the precision it would be in a laboratory, and we aren’t controlling for variables like temperature and humidity, but it will be clinically interesting to see if they are any differences in outcomes.
There’s also the nearly-universal thought that being outside should help, although I listened to some doctor rattle off the numbers of people who recently came back to his East Coast state with the virus after attending a beach party in a neighboring state, and there are the spring breakers from both ski resorts and beaches who did a great deal of spreading in March.
In the April edition of Colorado Central, editor Mike Rosso looked back at the 1918 influenza epidemic. (Do you suppose the woman Karen talked to thinks the flu virus is real, kills people, and might be something to take precautions against?)
He noted that Gunnison’s draconian measures to keep people out worked, up until restrictions were lifted in February 1919, when a third wave of the virus sickened — but did not kill — nearly 100 residents. (I had not heard this before, and 9 News says two cases. Pick a number you like and go with it.)
South of Gunnison, in the very isolated mining town of Silverton, no such precautions were taken as they assumed they were remote enough to be removed from harm.
And just as Sweden today is starting to question its hands-off covid-19 approach that has killed many more of its residents than neighbors Norway, Denmark and Finland, Silverton paid the price, with 146 out of 2,000 (7 percent of the population) dead of flu by December 1918. (Or 200, 10 percent, dead, if you’d rather believe the Durango Herald. Maybe that counts into 1919.)
Hindsight, of course, is always much more clear than foresight, where you are just groping myopically for the best way forward. Of course, you can be less myopic when armed with history, science, education and technology, but that doesn’t stop some people from their own self-assurance.
And when everyone, no matter how educated or scientific, find causes they deem worthy enough to turn out en masse for, well, we’ll just have to see what comes of it, hm?