When last I wrote, on February 3, a mere 44 days ago, there were 17,000 reported cases and approximately 300 deaths. As of at 2 p.m. EST on March 18, the day I write this, those numbers make for scary reading: 213,617 cases, 8,791 deaths, but over 84,000 have recovered (www.worldometers.info/coronavirus).
You are probably sick of reading about handwashing, not touching your face, social distancing, and self-isolation. So I want to address five other really worrying trends that pose – or encourage – clear and present dangers:
- There is an enormous of amount of heinous disinformation on the internet, many messages being copied, pasted, retweeted, and broadcast. Some of these dishonestly ascribe the content to venerable healthcare institutions or universities (Stanford, for instance) or to a “trusted friend” who is usually a “doctor” or “expert.” Daft recommendations that gargling with warm water will prevent an infection, or holding your breath to check respiratory function if concerned one might be infected. One crazy piece caught my attention, suggesting that people of color were somehow immune; kudos to British actor Idris Elba, who has been infected and posted a nice video message. And if it isn’t disinformation, or “fake news,” it is semi-information, where a snippet is widely promulgated as fact. Any information you see, check where it came from and validate accuracy by searching authoritative sites before forwarding to your social group. And as for the people who disseminate this sort of stuff, they should be ashamed of themselves and, in my opinion, prosecuted. Do your bit to stop this nonsense. In the interim do as your healthcare practitioner recommends and ignore the fearmongers.
- The panic buying and hoarding of groceries and other essential items is crazy, causes problems for others, raises anxiety levels, and creates a vicious social spiral. However, this behavior is to be expected in circumstances when people feel threatened; think of the 1950s where schoolchildren practiced crouching under their desks during a nuclear drill. Would it have helped? Nope. But at least people thought they were doing something. So please, encourage everyone to show restraint. Breathe, relax and in the immortal words of Douglas Adams, Don’t panic! And buying excessive numbers of toilet paper rolls will not save your ass – staying at home will!
- The perpetual assault on one’s psyche is emotionally draining, so please, don’t dwell on it. Maybe check the news twice daily, but no more than that. Medicine is making strides, vaccine trials to prevent infection are beginning, there are some improvements in testing, including a simple plastic tube that rather like a pregnancy test confirms in 15 minutes if one has antibodies to the coronavirus. Additionally, a number of currently available drugs, such as those usually used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, are being deployed to good effect and others are being rapidly evaluated. But there are other things in life to think about. Maybe use this time to learn a new skill, or practice instrument approaches on a simulator if you cannot get out to fly.
- If working from home or self-isolating, do not use this period of time to gain weight, drink too much alcohol, or just binge-watch Netflix. Start an exercise program, develop new healthy habits such as going to bed earlier (sleep is important for a properly functioning immune system). Read some good books to exercise your brain and schedule video chats with loved ones and old friends. Use the time positively.
- If you are feeling anxious, depressed, and scared, think about how people in your neighborhood who are elderly, alone, and have other problems might feel. Practice random acts of kindness such as going shopping for someone or maybe, if a restaurant or bar in your area is closing for the duration, tell them you would like to prepay for a few meals and will collect at some point in the future. That way we can preserve jobs and help ease the recovery when it does come. And it will.
Let me be clear, this pandemic is very serious and is going to have many sequelae beyond the health consequences for those affected, including profound economic damage. But how we behave can, and will, affect the outcome.
Tom Clancy wrote Clear and Present Danger in 1989 and I have always admired his storytelling and ability to capture my attention. I similarly hope that these messages resonate with you and, as pilots are smart, “take charge” sort of people, perhaps leaders in your respective communities, you can try and address these behaviors. We will get through this and we will be stronger on the other side. Please do your bit. I send my wishes to all of you, be safe, be healthy, and instead of my usual sign-off “fly well,” please live well.