Disease comes with stigma. That’s nothing new and the same applies to COVID-19. I’ve seen this unfolding in real time. From the president changing the words on his briefing paper from “coronavirus” to “Chinese virus” to local apathy and anger toward each other, the stigma of disease is alive and well.
On Monday, the New York Times chronicled epidemics that date back to earlier than 400 B.C. These include cholera, smallpox, typhus, swine flu, avian flu, Spanish Flu, Hong Kong Flu, leprosy, measles, malaria, AIDS, SARS, MERS, etc.
Stigma and prejudice follows these scary titles around. In 1968 a billboard in Des Moines, Iowa read, “HONG KONG FLU IS UNAMERICAN! Catch Something Made in the U.S.A.”
AIDS was pinned on the homosexual community but is still with us and is still stigmatized in many countries by many people. More than 32 million people were claimed by AIDS and almost 38 million are living with the disease today thanks to new therapies.
Ebola? Deadly, highly contagious and stigmatized.
On Sunday, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis held a press briefing that was explicit, honest, urgent, scientific and data-driven. I encourage all Coloradans to find it online and follow the guidelines outlined by the governor. His directives are extreme. The virus threatens to overwhelm the state and country. He argues that this calls for an urgent response from everyone.
Like Polis explained, no one cares for you, your loved ones or your friends more than you do, so voluntary participation on distancing directives depends on the individual. No police are going to lock people up for kissing in the park or getting too close. We are self-policing. What we do now will make a big difference in what we can do later. And to who lives or dies.
I just got back from a trip to Mexico. I was on a plane that was about three-quarters full and we were seated next to a woman who was coughing about every two minutes. We asked to be moved, not because we didn’t respect her and wish her well, but because we were seated in her personal blast zone. She obviously felt stigmatized, which is regrettable. But we moved anyway.
I was surprised that at both DIA and the airport in Cancun that there was no attempt at determining who was safe to fly or who was coming in hot. We did see a couple of medics suited up near the security checkpoint in Cancun. They had some kind of exotic thermometer but they were not looking at anyone coming through. I did see a young tourist woman wearing a T-shirt with the Corona beer logo with the word “virus” emblazoned under it.
At DIA there were no resources on hand to see if anyone was running hot. People were being fed through customs as quickly as possible. It’s understandable. The airports can’t afford to manage the cases of thousands of people coming in when there is no viable testing available. Folks are already on their way home and being told to self-quarantine. It’s the best we can do at this point.
There’s a website (ncov2019.live) developed by Avi Shiffmann, a 17-year-old American teenager that compiles worldwide data on the spread of the virus. As of this writing, (Wednesday, March 25, 2020 at 3 p.m.) there were 466,083 confirmed cases worldwide, 20,946 deceased, 12,815 serious cases and 110,036 total recovered. One-hundred-eight-four of 195 total countries have cases. The website also breaks down data by countries and states, and Colorado was listing 912 known infections and eleven deaths.
Of course, these are only the cases that have been reported. Tests are still hard to get so the numbers of the infected and recovered will never really be known. There’s no simple, accessible test to see if you’ve had it or you have it. In Pitkin County, widespread public testing had to be suspended in order to direct resources to those who were coming to the hospital for treatment.
In Grand County you may be able to get tested, maybe not. The official Grand County Public Health website says, “If you are concerned about your symptoms, please call the office of your health care provider for guidance. Tell them about your travel or contact as well as your symptoms. Your health care professional will work with county and state public health departments and the CDC to determine if you need to be tested for COVID-19.” No locations listed.
The lack of reliable data is one of our country’s biggest shortfalls. If authorities don’t know who’s got it and where it’s going, it’s going to be hard to react and attack concisely. That’s why we are seeing entire states like California being locked down. We are flying blind.
I appreciate Colorado’s official response. In light of a national effort that is considered by some experts to be rudderless and clueless, it’s impressive to see dedicated adults, doctors and scientists doing the best they can with the little they’ve got, right here in our state.
Polis was lamenting that Colorado’s hospitals were expecting to be short of up to 7,000 ventilators and thousands of medical masks when the expected peak of the outbreak comes and his team is making efforts to address the shortage with local manufacturing.
I live in a location where it’s easy to avoid contact with others. You might say that I’ve been training for this crisis, in my 200-square-foot cabin with no running water, conventional heat or television. I’ve become a prepper and didn’t even know it. Although I still don’t have any guns … shoot, I might have to change that.
Steve Skinner wishes you good health and harmony. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.