If you read my posts on the topic of the coronavirus so far… and I mean all of them, not just cherry picking them… I think you will find that I have attempted consistently to apportion my viewpoint to the actual facts on the ground and have, in the main, pretty well correctly described what was happening and what would happen. However, my relative ‘optimism’ is not accounted for merely by reference to the fact pattern associated with COVID-19. There are reasons besides, as well, which I’d like to share with you in this post.
In the first place, there is the overall historical arc related to humanity’s progress when it comes to disease management.
I suppose by now, everyone has been reminded of the horrible outcomes of the Spanish Flu back around 1918. These are set before us as dire warning about what ‘could’ happen to us if we don’t [insert draconian measure here]. The Spanish Flu was indeed a terrible menace, but have we forgotten that in 2009, we were visited by a close cousin, a variant of the Spanish Flu, H1N1, also a ‘novel’ one, like our dear coronavirus, and subsequently called H1N1 (pdm09).
Until COVID, you probably didn’t hear much about H1N1, even though it was also a global pandemic. Still, in the US:
From April 12, 2009 to April 10, 2010, CDC estimated there were 60.8 million cases (range: 43.3-89.3 million), 274,304 hospitalizations (range: 195,086-402,719), and 12,469 deaths (range: 8868-18,306) in the United States due to the (H1N1)pdm09 virus.
Additionally, CDC estimated that 151,700-575,400 people worldwide died from (H1N1)pdm09 virus infection during the first year the virus circulated.
Set aside comparisons to COVID for now. What about the Spanish Flu? Was it the case that H1N1 (pdm09) was by comparison less deadly? Here is another idea: there were factors in play in 2009 which were not available in 1918, which, had they been present in 1918, may have made the Spanish Flu little more than a footnote in history, the way the 2009 flu has ended up.
With so many people invested in using the Spanish Flu as a dire warning for today, it wouldn’t surprise me if we would struggle to find an analysis answering that question (although it wouldn’t surprise me if there is, either). Certainly, the ‘mainstream’ seems unaware of this possibility. Therefore, let me give you some things that are different today which likewise encourage me when it comes to COVID-19.
1. In 1918, our understanding of genetics was rudimentary, at best. It certainly pales in comparison to what we have now. Mendel’s pea experiment was forgotten for decades, only given its proper due in the early 1900s.
2. The structure of DNA was not even discovered until the 1950s (Watson, Crick, and Franklin). Viruses are distinct from bacteria in that they are RNA… a distinction that wasn’t even discovered until the 1930s. Both of these events occurred AFTER the Spanish Flu of 1918.
It should go without saying that we have much to learn even now, but it is nonetheless the case that we have amassed a tremendous amount of information that was unavailable even to the flu-fighters of 1918.
3. Even antibiotics had not yet been discovered yet in 1918. The knee-jerks blurt out “BUT ANTIBIOTICS DON’T WORK ON VIRUSES” failing to understand how people tend to die from influenza (and other diseases too, for that matter). While in many cases, the flu certainly does kill outright, in many other cases, what the diseases do is inflict initial damage but, because of other underlying conditions, weakened immunities, and so on, they become vulnerable to secondary infections, and it ends up being these that kill them, not the influenza directly.
So, I REPEAT, antibiotics had not yet been discovered in 1918. Or, to be more precise, just what an ‘antibiotic’ was had not yet been discovered; antibiotics had been deployed before this, but because there was not the accompanying knowledge of genetics in general, and bacteria and viruses in particular, their import was not recognized. Fleming famously unraveled the mystery in 1928, with the discovery of penicillin. This was ten years after the Spanish Flu.
4. Our ability to see what is going on in the lungs is a critical component of detecting and then treating various ailments, including COVID-19. But ‘x-rays’ were not discovered (and then by accident) until 1895 and were only just starting to come into their own, medically speaking, when the Spanish Flu began. It would still be decades before they were ubiquitous in hospitals, and so on. And for further perspective, the CT/CAT scan wasn’t even invented until the 1970s.
I’ll let the reader do the math as to whether or not this was before, or long after, the Spanish Flu.
5. There are many headlines right now about ventilators. These life-preserving machines are clearly at the center of our fight against COVID-19. Can the reader guess? Will ventilators have been invented before or after the Spanish Flu? If you guessed LONG AFTER, you win, Jim. The first respirators emerged around 1928 and then improved radically over the decades, becoming known as ventilators in the 1950s.
I am by no means an expert in these matters, but even I can tell that our war-fighting capability against the influenza is categorically different, and much improved, over the Spanish Flu. When you throw in the thousands, if not millions, of additions to our knowledge and technology since then, I have to cast a skeptical look on warnings that we are facing something on the scale of the Spanish Flu. Indeed, it seems like a very plausible hypothesis that our 2009 pandemic is a good example of the kind of difference these advancements can make.
[Omitted, here, is analysis of other factors re: the Spanish Flu, such as the cramped quarters of a world at war, etc, etc,]
I know I’m supposed to be in a panic right now if I was a good little citizen, but you will forgive me if I have the view that the advancements in medicine to this point ought to be given far more weight than they seem to be given, and thus I am more optimistic than many seem to be… and for some very good reasons, in my opinion.
And I have other reasons, as well.
The Coronavirus is shaping up to be similar in scale and effect as two other calamities this country has seen. As with Pearl Harbor and with 9-11, the country has been overturned and unsettled in very short order. Like them, we are already discovering that our leaders missed critical clues that could have prevented the events from happening at all, and even worse, the career bureaucrats who “only had one job” managed to foul things up immeasurably. (I do hope we someday learn the exact names of the bureaucrats that held up our testing program.) As with these, our enemy struck a country that was enjoying a time of peace, generally minding its own business, with a distinct uptick in our prosperity perceptible. All this came crashing down at once. Not quite over night, as with them, but pretty dang close.
However, if the other two incidents are any guide, then we may expect that what was true about the quote attributed to Yamamoto, the general that planned the Pearl Harbor attack, to also be true about the coronavirus: “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”
And how terrible a resolve it is.
Do we remember what happened to Yamamoto? Hey, how is Bin Laden these days?
It may very well be true that our response to such events proves imperfect and counter-productive. I am not arguing that America is perfect, by any means. I have my own list of complaints. But it is also true that when you sucker-punch this giant, we stand up to our full height, tower over all, and beat the ever-loving shit out of the lot of them.
The moral story is “Don’t sucker punch a giant.” Or, if you are the sort, “Don’t eff with us.” But then, mindless RNA don’t know better. Nonetheless, I feel that I am well within my rights to believe we’re going to murder a whole lot of those rat bastards, many more than get us.
There is some kind of strange sentiment out there which equates assertions of “It is not going to be as bad as the worst case scenario” as “It is not going to be bad.” So, even though the accusation is completely irrational and even stupid, I have to address it.
Clearly, Pearl Harbor was bad. Clearly, 9-11 was bad. People died in the event and they would die after. The reverberations of both events are still felt today. This is true. It will be true about the coronavirus. Will it be as bad as those who said we’ll have to be locked in our houses for 18 months and/or hundreds of millions if not billions will die? Not bloody likely.
But some will die. And our leaders will fail us. But that is just par for the course. The country will be lifted back onto its feet just the way it always has been–very often, despite the best efforts of our most enlightened and most empowered leaders to prevent it. Who are these heroes? The same heroes it always is: It will be the farmers in the field, the nurses in the ICU, the truckers on the road. It will be the shop keepers, the cashiers, the delivery men. It will be the makers, the builders, the producers. No doubt, there will be some leaders who in the main rise to the challenge, but they will only be able to do this because behind them, beneath them, among them, are a multitude of men and women, rising from their slumber, standing to their full height, will mutter menacingly, “Don’t eff with us.”
[Here is one of many movie scenes which help convey the image I am attempting to paint. If you know of similar ones, let me know and maybe I’ll include those]
And, as has always been the case, the ones to die will be these, and not them.
Here is a picture of my local cemetery. Each flag represents a veteran. Spread uniformly throughout this country are cemeteries like this one. Our country has a legacy of getting knocked down, shaking off the cobwebs, standing up deliberately, dusting off the pants, clenching the fists, and getting down to business.
I, for one, expect nothing less this time.
I suppose there are many countries which can point to a legacy of perseverance as a just reason for hope, and I hope they do. They should. We are not mere beasts at the mercy of circumstance. We are made in the image of God. Death may fell us all in the end, but it will not keep us down. You may not yet have that hope yourself, but for people like myself, for the reasons described above, and those who have this future hope, it really is the case “that we have nothing to fear but fear itself.”
Lift your chin up. This ain’t no time to cower. GET UP. It is time to do battle. Better get it through your head now that it won’t be easy, because as Pearl Harbor and 9-11 shows, the worst is yet to come. Americans be like