Frogs Do It, Bees Do It–Even Educated “We’s” Do It…

 

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Honeybee image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org

I altered the first line of an old song (“Let’s Fall in Love”) to shamelessly draw you in to a discussion of an important topic.

As an intro, here’s a little Haiku for These Times

Social distancing—
Ants isolate selves when ill
Healthy queen makes room.

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Ant image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org

Why are ants so much smarter than a growing number of humans? I’m speaking now of the American variety (of humans, not ants), but surely there are others.

There is near unanimity in the scientific community that social distancing is essential if we are ever to gain control over the coronavirus.

Most people in the US are pretty cranky about the isolation and feel/recognize the terrible economic burden it imposes. We want out as soon as possible, but we understand that social distancing is for our safety and that of others.

And it doesn’t take a college degree to understand—just common sense, a willingness to listen to reason, and a bit of compassion.

Yet the President has swung both ways on the issue, now firmly enunciating what he regards as essential: reopening the economy—come what may.

And he’s encouraging defiance of the standards his administration developed–even as the coronavirus has sneaked its way past the Secret Service and into the White House.

He’s a very confused person who declared himself a success when deaths passed 64,000 and told us we can expect twice that many. As I write, they’re about to pass 78,000.

Is there a magic number that will maybe move him to consider the role he might play in reducing this catastrophe?

Meanwhile the Senate Republicans see no need to beef up the successful food stamp program when millions more need it—for fear that people will become accustomed to such “handouts.”

Bulletin just in from Politico: Republicans all in to focus on touting Trump’s success in handling pandemic.

But let’s get back to the animals. Unlike the heavily armed Michigan “protesters” whining that their liberties are being infringed upon, animals know when it’s not safe to go get a haircut.

I’ll state at the outset that I’m not endorsing all these animal behaviors—merely pointing out their existence and the reasons for them.

Take mandrill monkeys, for example. They spend a lot of time grooming each other, keeping one another’s fur clean and free of parasites.

But if one member of their group shows signs of a contagious disease, that poor soul is involuntarily isolated. They do, however, make exceptions for ailing family members.

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Mandrill monkey image courtesy of pxfuel.com

Chimpanzees take matters even further, aggressively ousting an ailing member. Jane Goodall reported observing a chimp with polio in Tanzania in 1966. At one point, the chimp, partially paralyzed, reached out to greet his fellows, but they moved away from him.

Goodall did note that eventually, chimps would allow some of their stricken fellows to return.

Honeybees do more than move away. Older bees, capable of smelling serious bacterial diseases like American foulbrood, which destroys the larvae, will throw the bees out of the hive.

As this seemingly heartless act (forgive me; I tend to anthropomorphize) actually protects the colony as a whole, leading to healthier bees, beekeepers and researchers have been selectively breeding for this behavior for many years.

American Bullfrog tadpoles also react to chemical signals to prevent them from catching a lethal yeast infection, according to Joe Kiesecker, a research scientist.

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American Bullfrog tadpole image courtesy of flickr.com

In the late 1990s, models of the spread of disease were based on the prediction that animals got sick by random contact with infected beings.

“But it’s clear animals are smarter,” Kiesecker said. Healthy tadpoles he studied avoided those that were sick.

I think you get the picture. The concept of social distancing, practiced in varying ways, isn’t some wild-eyed idea from scientists that Trump would prefer not to listen to. It is an evolutionary survival mechanism.

According to Dana Hawley, professor of biological sciences at Virginia Tech:

“Anytime we see a behavior that has evolved again and again in lots of different animals, that tells us that this has to be a very beneficial behavior.”

Hawley and Julia Buck, an assistant professor of biology at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, have said:

“The evidence from nature is clear: Social distancing is an effective tool for reducing disease spread. It is also a tool that can be implemented more rapidly and more universally than almost any other. Unlike vaccination and medication, behavioral changes don’t require development and testing.”

We humans presumably have the intelligence and compassion to use this concept effectively and wisely. But we dare not pretend it isn’t necessary for our survival.

Yet that seems to be what some “magical thinkers” are doing.

The Texas Lieutenant Governor has said “there are more important things than living.” (I wish he’d been asked to name one.) Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie concluded that “there are going to be deaths no matter what,” so we should forge ahead in opening the economy.

The President appears to have simply picked up his golf ball and gone home: telling us what a great job he’s doing while acknowledging the death tolls will be far higher than anticipated.

Without adequate testing—which both the President and Vice President get every day, by the way—as well as tracing, we’ll never know how many of us this pandemic has truly sickened and killed. And we won’t be able to contain it better than we’re doing.

A powerful New York Times editorial by Charlie Wurzel expressed concern that as the death toll rises, we will become inured to it—just as we have to the unfathomable toll from gun violence.

Wurzel quotes Dr. Megan Ranney, an emergency physician and professor at Brown University devoted to gun violence prevention, who sees similarities between individuals protesting gun control and those protesting pandemic lockdowns.

You will recall that the President encouraged the armed people who terrorized those in the Michigan State House.

According to Ranney:

“This group has moved the reopening debate from a conversation about health and science to a conversation about liberty…It’s no longer about weighing risks and benefits and instead it’s this politicized narrative…

“Most gun owners are smart and responsible and safety-conscious—just like most Americans want to do what’s right for public health. But the small minority dominates the conversation.”

Wurzel writes:

“As in the gun control debate, public opinion, public health and the public good seem poised to lose out to a select set of personal freedoms…where any suggestion of collective duty and responsibility for others become the chains of tyranny.”

The animals who practice social distancing are following their instincts. But we are seeing a deliberate rejection of social distancing now by the President, Senate Republicans, and a small but noisy group of malcontents.

They base their objections on a distorted view of economics and individual liberties that not only presents a false dichotomy between the economy and human life, but also cruelly casts our most vulnerable people as the sacrificial “warriors” in this dreadfully unnecessary war.

As we have seen, people of color are among the most heavily affected. In addition to the disproportionate deaths and poverty, they are even being subjected to heavier policing in the areas of social distancing and wearing masks.

(Is there reason to wonder why African American men may be reluctant to don masks when the most recent senseless killing of an unarmed, innocent young man out jogging is so painfully fresh?)

The term Social Darwinism comes to mind. Briefly, this long discredited theory reshaped Darwin’s theory of evolution to create a negative societal ideology. To Social Darwinists:

“Survival of the fittest”—the idea that certain people become powerful in society because they are innately better. Social Darwinism has been used to justify imperialism, racism, eugenics and social inequality at various times over the past century and a half.”

Is this where we are in America now?

Annie

Continue reading “Frogs Do It, Bees Do It–Even Educated “We’s” Do It…”

More Notes From a COVID-19 Epicenter: Fighting This Thing Alone–Together

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COVID-19; image courtesy of state.gov.

Events are moving very rapidly. Less than a week after I published my post about life in self-quarantine in an epicenter of the pandemic, far more Americans are in similar situations—some in mandatory lockdown, which I suspect will arrive in my community soon. (Update: we’re now in mandatory lockdown.)

In my previous post, I described being in a hard-hit area with a local hospital whose CEO was profoundly worried about running out of ventilators for patients and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for hospital staff. When staff members become ill, obviously, there’s no one to treat patients.

Our community arranged a teleconference for residents to hear from all the relevant local, county, and state officials, as well as our member of Congress. Both my husband and I felt good about what we’d heard. These people knew what they were doing. They were competent and dedicated, and would do whatever was humanly possible to keep us safe.

One person who wasn’t on the call was the hospital CEO.

Today we learned that he has tested positive for COVID-19. Just days before, he’d been at another meeting with all the folks above. So possibly, the entire entourage whom we’re depending upon may now be harboring the disease. This concept takes a little getting used to— and much deep breathing.

Now our governor has taken over these local operations. The governors have been the unsung heroes of this pandemic—from Jay Inslee in Washington state to Mario Cuomo in New York.

They’ve struggled to gain the attention of a President who just weeks ago was declaring the pandemic a “hoax” perpetrated by the Democrats to oust him from office. We lost valuable time while he lived in denial/conspiracy land, bolstered by his friends on Fox TV.

But faced with a free fall in the only indicator he seems to care about, the stock market, Trump has finally awakened and declared himself a “Wartime President.” And then he went missing in action before our eyes. “Mr President,” the exhausted governors pleaded “we desperately need federal help.” His response: “Find your own ventilators. We’re not a shipping clerk.”

It’s so ironic that the President many of us have worried has shown dictatorial tendencies—who has, in fact, declared that as president he has the right to do whatever he wants—is now being so reluctant to use the power he has for the greater good.

The New York Times observed “Mixed Signals From President Sow Confusion.” First he said he would invoke the Defense Production Act, which dates to the Korean War and “grants the president extraordinary powers to force American industries to ensure the availability of critical equipment.”

The very next day, he made his “We’re not a shipping clerk” comment. Apparently, some business leaders who didn’t like the idea of being “forced” to do anything got his ear. But will they do enough, quickly enough, to provide the vital protective equipment to ensure that our health care workers aren’t decimated, and that enough  life-saving respirators are on hand so that those working won’t have to perform triage to determine who gets one and who’s left to die–as is currently the case in Italy?

Meanwhile, in Italy, the total death rate reached 3405 on Thursday, exceeding that of China at its highest, according to an article in Bloomberg. The next day, Bloomberg reported 627 deaths, “the highest daily toll since outbreak hit.”

The Prime Minister is weighing even greater restrictions than those covered by the current “near-total lockdown,” Bloomberg reports. “The decision depends on factors including the spread of infections and the fact that many Italians aren’t respecting the rules, the official said.”

And this is happening in northern Italy, which has more and better hospitals than the southern part of the country—and has been overwhelmed. If the virus spreads south, it could be disastrous. The second article cited provides information about Spain, the UK, Germany, and the Netherlands.

I am also getting reports about India from my fellow blogger, the Controversial Indian, who provides her thoughts daily from what she calls “house arrest.” She observed on Day 19 that she is suspicious of the low number of cases reported to date—236—and says “the government still refuses to acknowledge that there is any community transmission of the disease in the country.” There’s also very little testing.

You’ve seen the curve of increased cases in Italy? Our curve bears an eerie resemblance to that one, and experts report that at the speed at which the cases are multiplying, we have about two weeks before we’ll be facing comparable conditions.

That’s why it’s so important to try to “flatten the curve” of the incidence of infection by having us remain in our homes. At this point, the number of confirmed cases in the US has climbed to more than 17,000. The lack of adequate testing suggests that number is considerably higher.

Dear Readers:

It appears that more of you have begun to take these events seriously. But if you are still tempted to disregard this threat, please reconsider. I get that the pandemic is affecting various parts of the country differently, but this nasty virus knows how to cross state lines—big time.

And as a country, we have varying degrees of quality and quantity in the health care services and facilities we can access. If New York City, one of the nation’s foremost medical meccas, can be approaching the breaking point, I fear the Italian analogy will be appropriate. Other areas will be hard hit and won’t have the resources and expertise they’ll need.

So I am speaking to you, the Spring Break Invulnerables yukking it up on Florida beaches, oblivious to the threat.

And to you, those who didn’t think twice about going to a large wedding in Brooklyn, NY, that had to be broken up by the police.

And to you, the Self-Styled Immortal Boomer Parents who are in the “most vulnerable” category, but refuse to adapt while their 30-something children scream at them and weep at their heedlessness: “Don’t take that cruise!” Why are you going out to dinner again?” (See The Atlantic article, Convincing Boomer Parents to Take the Coronavirus Seriously.)

And to you, bloggers who have expressed disdain at the “stupidity” of people who are going like sheep into their homes as requested—or ordered.

As I and many others have pointed out, we are all interconnected and interdependent. We are in for a rough period unlike anything we’ve seen in the US in our lifetimes.

We will get through this, but we’ll do it more quickly and with fewer casualties if we’re willing to put up with the dramatic changes to our daily lives that the experts insist are essential.

One more thing. A friend forwarded to me a video of a lecture on the coronavirus for health professionals, which was given by Dr. Lynn Fitzgibbons, an infectious diseases specialist at the Santa Barbara (CA) Cottage Hospital.

I found the 1-hour lecture fascinating. One tidbit that I felt important to convey here is Dr. Fitzgibbons’ suggestion, based on findings, that the distance the virus can travel through sneezes or coughs is closer to 13 feet, rather than the 6 feet we’re currently told to observe in social distancing.

For now, social distancing must be our mantra.

There’s a cute little public service announcement made by Max Brooks and his father, the comedian Mel Brooks, age 93. Max is visiting his dad while standing outside his home, talking through the closed window. “If I get the coronavirus, I’ll probably be ok,” he tells us. “But if I give it to him, he can give it to Carl Reiner, who can give it to Dick Van Dyke…and before I know it, I could wipe out a whole generation of comedic legends.”

The PSA concludes with Mel nodding his head in agreement, knocking on the window, and telling his son: “Now go home.”

Very good advice for us all.

And in accord with my ongoing belief that we must keep laughing, I bring you the wise words on social distancing from Pluto, a four-legged. (Also courtesy of my friend Fran Kaufman; thank you, Fran!)

Note: Pluto doesn’t mean to offend with his straight talk; I hope you’ll keep that in mind.

Annie

Continue reading “More Notes From a COVID-19 Epicenter: Fighting This Thing Alone–Together”